Change Your Warm-up: Stretching Before Exercise is Harmful

Change Your Warm-up: Stretching Before Exercise is Harmful

There are many theories about how best to warm up for exercise. Percy Cerutty, a long distance running coach, developed his theory by throwing a bucket of water at his cat. His athletes watched as the cat leapt up and ran away, avoiding the water. Percy famously asked, "Did the cat stretch or jog about before it sprinted off at speed? Did it stretch? Nope, it just sprinted!" Cerutty was extreme, and from that point on his athletes never stretched again.

He may have been onto something, though. He coached in the 1940s and some 70 years later, scientists, physiologists, and exercise specialists are starting to come around. Many now agree that static stretching (the typical reach and hold stretching) is not beneficial and can even be harmful. Runner's World, for example, reports, "There is no evidence that static stretching prevents injury or improves performance, experts now say. In fact there's some evidence that it can hurt."

In truth, how you should warm up depends on what type of exercise you're doing. Aerobic exercise means low intensity exercise that lasts a long duration; for example, running, swimming, or biking. Anaerobic exercise means high intensity exercise that lasts a short duration; for example, sprinting or weightlifting. In either case, you'll definitely want to avoid static stretching.

For aerobic exercise, your best bet is to warm up within your workout. If you're going on a run, for example, just start out very slowly and gradually build up. Even Kenyan professional long distance runners start off their runs at 10-minute-mile pace and gradually build up the pace. If the pros aren't embarrassed running so slowly, neither should you be.

For anaerobic exercise, a dynamic warm up will get your muscles loose, active, and ready for intense exercise and improved performance. You'll want to tweak your dynamic warm up to fit your needs. For example, my hips are my tightest muscle group, so I often spend extra time loosening them up with lunges and leg swings. You might have loose hips, but tight shoulders - in that case, spend extra time on your shoulders.

Example Routine

Start by foam rolling over your tightest muscles. Roll 10 times over and back on each spot. Next, move to a full body exercise (like jump rope or rowing) for 3-5 minutes. Then focus on improving blood circulation through various body parts by performing exercises like bodyweight squats or lunges (for legs) and pushups (for chest and arms). Finally, loosen up with some dynamic flexibility movements like leg and/or arm swings, depending how you feel. Here's a good warm up to begin with. Be sure to tweak it based on your needs.

  • Foam roll over quads, hamstrings, back, and glutes (10 over and back each)
  • Jump rope for 3-5 minutes
  • 20 bodyweight squats
  • 10 lunges (each leg)
  • 2 sets of 5-10 pushups
  • 10 forward leg swings (each leg)
  • 10 side-to-side leg swings (each leg)
  • 10 shoulder rotations (each arm): keep your arms straight out to the side, and move your arms in circles, making bigger circles each time

One final tip: track your warm-up and try to beat it every workout. You don't have to beat every warm up exercise every workout. Just pick one exercise and add 30 seconds or a few reps. You can even just foam roll one more muscle if you're not feeling very energetic!

CATEGORIES: Fitness, Exercises