Stretching. The truth.

It has been known for a long time, but people don’t change their beliefs easily. You stretch AFTER you exercise the muscle, not before. Stretching before can lead to injury and also weakens the muscles you are about to use (temporarily). Stretch after the exercise to reduce the pain (the good pain) or possible spasms or cramps that may catch up to you later.

Before exercising warm up. Quick waling, running, that sort of thing. Don’t stretch.

I know that you either already knew this or you simply don’t believe me. I can’t help you if you fall into the latter category. But you can always read about it (well, at least part of it) in the New York Times. (You may have to log in.)


  1. #1 Coturnix
    November 8, 2008

    You have no idea how difficult it is to persuade horse trainers about this! They think you are a criminal and animal torturer if you are doing it RIGHT and think they are just so swell when they are actually doing it WRONG.

  2. #2 dean
    November 8, 2008

    No to “toot the horn” for me and the folks with whom I cycle, but we’ve done this for years: get ourselves warm before a ride, stretch like all get out at the end. It goes on in our spinning classes too.

    Still no cure for looking like dorks in our cycling gear, but at least we have fun doing it.

  3. #3 Becca
    November 8, 2008

    I bet there’s a local maximum for level of pre-stretching that works best for some specific activities, like martial arts.
    Just warming up doesn’t give you enough flexibility for the jump spin crescent kicks. Likewise, if you want that move to be anything other than a “oh look at me” (it should function as at least a nasty slap in the face), it has to have some force behind it that- so there’s definitely something you can over-stretch on too.
    Studies must be done!

  4. #4 DDeden
    November 8, 2008

    Actually I stopped believing any talk about benefits of sports long ago, there’s just too much ignorance and misinformation, just like dieting & politics. I just go with warming up, breathing up and loosening up, which includes mild stretching but never max straining of anything, before any tough physical effort.

  5. #5 ngong
    November 8, 2008

    Kudos to Mr. Laden. Athletic training, stock market prediction, pop psychology…I wish we’d hear more science-oriented bloggers tackle these subjects. Debunking every case of pareidolia is awfully tedious.

  6. #6 DG
    November 8, 2008

    Athletic coaches are responsible for spewing more BS than any other group of people. It’s like, if you’re not doing things exactly the way Bear Bryant or Mike Ditka did it, you’re a prissy new-ager.

  7. #7 Greg Laden
    November 8, 2008

    Or Dick Butt Kiss. Don’t forget about him.

  8. #8 Russ
    November 9, 2008

    In the martial art that I practice, we pretty much do the above. There is an emphasis on joint rotation without straining to get the body up to speed. Stretching to improve flexibility is done after the activity.

    I would like to add that while increased range of motion increases power (something desirable for all athletes), It is even more important for arts that deal with grappling and joint manipulation. Flexibility allows one to better tolerate techniques designed to damage joints by taking them beyond their range of motion.

  9. #9 Scote
    November 9, 2008

    “Athletic coaches are responsible for spewing more BS than any other group of people.”

    Hmmm…how many people have been injured from all those “work through the pain” “all pain is good” coaches? One wonders…

    But, back to the OP. I know with a reasonable degree of certainly that if I don’t do a couple of basic stretches before fencing I wind up pulling a muscle. While I realize that is anecdotal, it seems to be true for me. I’ll have to look into recommendations of the study…

  10. #10 greg laden
    November 9, 2008

    Scote: Your muscle range is something, like strength, you should develop over time and not get in line just before the work. Try warming up without the stretching, then stretch aftewards. The warming up may give you what you need.