As a high school athlete I was well-versed in the pre-workout stretching concept. As Captain of the Spring Track team, my job was to lead my teammates in a pretty grueling flexibility routine at the beginning of every practice. The more limber we made our bodies (we were told) the more protected we would be against injury.
Well, fast forward a couple of decades and now researchers are discovering that all the pre-game and pre-training stretching athletes engage in actually does more harm than good! One recent study conducted at the University of Nevada Las Vegas revealed that muscles which had been lengthened by static (prolonged) stretching were actually weakened by some 30% when compared to non-stretched muscles. Other research has found that this post-stretch muscle weakness can persist for upwards of 30 minutes, placing the newly lengthened muscle at greater risk for injury—exactly the opposite outcome hoped for!
So does that mean we are off the hook when it comes to stretching? By no means! Stretching is still important; it just needs proper sequencing. Begin your workout by allowing your muscles to warm up slowly (i.e. quick walk before jogging, low impact aerobics before high), proceed through your “full-throttle” workout, and then END with a comprehensive stretching routine.
Now it’s time for my confession. Yes, I was a competitive athlete who then became a physical therapist. But when no one was looking (my coach, or another PT professional), I would always work out first and then stretch afterwards—even though it was against everything I had been taught. The reason? It just felt better to me. I can’t tell you how glad I am to finally have my sneaky exercise ways vindicated! ; )