The Truth About Stretching

Does it help or hurt? Should you do it before or after a workout? Experts sort through the many mixed messages.

By Sonya Collins
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

The benefits of a regular exercise routine are undisputed. But how to start that routine — literally what to do first — is far less clear. Should you stretch before you exercise?

From Zumba instructors and dance teachers to team coaches and personal trainers, chances are you’ve gotten a lot of conflicting advice about stretching. And frankly, a lot of that advice probably just stretched the truth.

Do any of these sound familiar?

  • You have to hold a stretch to get the benefit.
  • Don’t bounce in the stretch — you’ll tear your muscle.
  • If you don’t stretch before a workout, you’ll hurt yourself.

Well, they’re all wrong. But before exploring how and when to stretch, we must answer a bigger question.

Do You Need to Stretch at All?

The American College of Sports Medicine says it’s a good idea. Regular flexibility exercises are “crucial to maintaining joint range of movement,” they say. The group recommends stretching each of the major muscle groups at least two times a week for 60 seconds per exercise.

Some studies have shown that regular flexibility exercises help maintain your range of movement as you age. For example, as flexibility in the hips and hamstrings decreases with age, you may take smaller steps. Regular stretching can help prevent this, says Lynn Millar, PhD, who is a physical therapist and professor at Winston-Salem State University.

Studies also show that regularly stretching the muscles that are constantly shortened through your work posture or daily routine can ease and prevent chronic pain. If you experience back pain from sitting at a desk all day, stretches that reverse that posture could help.

Exercise physiologist Mike Bracko recommends The Standing Cat-Camel as a work-related back stretch. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees bent slightly. Lean forward, placing your hands just above your knees. Round your back so that your chest is closed and your shoulders are curved forward. Then arch your back so that your chest opens and your shoulders roll back. Repeat several times.

For people whose jobs require them to stay in the same position all day — which is most of us — Bracko recommends quick two-minute stretch breaks to reverse that posture at least every 60 minutes.  Click here to read entire article

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