Wrong! Stretching Is NOT the Best Thing to Do before a Workout, Then What to Do Instead?

Old habits are hard to break.

This also seems to be the case when it comes to the old school static stretching that you used to do in your physical education class. Static stretching, like tugging on your arms and legs has been the default “warm up” activity for decades, promising to be the best way to warm up for a workout or athletic competition. However, stretching is not the best thing you can do before your workout. In fact, what you’re about to read may go against everything you’ve been taught about stretching before you workout.

The one thing you shouldn’t do at this time is the very thing that most people do: stretch. So why is stretching before a workout a bad idea? Here are 5 reasons.

1. Stretching is not the same as a warm up.

This is probably the hugest misunderstanding when it comes to preparing yourself for a workout. It’s imperative that you understand that these two routines (stretching vs. warming up) have completely different identities.

2. Stretching does not prepare your body for exercise.

Stretching actually decreases your heart rate and doesn’t stimulate your nervous system to prepare for the high intensity workout you’re about to take on. A study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research shows that stretching before you lift weights may leave you weaker and less coordinated during your workout.

3. Stretching alone, before a workout, might increase risk of injury.

According to research in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, stretching doesn’t prepare your muscles for eccentric loading (negative reps), which is when most strains are believed to occur.

4. Stretching doesn’t prevent injury.

The idea that stretching prevents injury is almost a folk tale dating back to when Physical Education classes where introduced in school. It’s had a long life, but it’s time to put the idea to rest. Simply put, there isn’t any research to show that stretching alone helps prevent injury.

5. Stretching can make you sleepy.

Passive, static stretching has a calming effect that can make you sleepy—not exactly the mood you’re looking for before an intense workout.

So what should you do instead?

Perform a full body dynamic warm. Warming up will prepare all of your systems to ensure that you perform most efficiently in your workout. A good warm up should affect the heart, blood vessels, nervous system, muscles and tendons, along with the joints and ligaments. Additionally, a good warm up will sharpen your reaction time, enhance concentration, improve coordination and regulate your mental and emotional state. The warm up template below is a surefire way to ensure that your mind and body will be prepared to take on any workout.

  • 5–10 minutes of aerobic activity (jog, bike, row)
  • 5 minutes of dynamic stretching and mobilitywod work (arm swings, leg swings, lunges, neck rolls, mountain climbers, foam rolling, voo doo flossing)
  • 5 minute mental prep

By using this template and performing a makeover on your warm up rather than just stretching, here is how you’ll improve your health mentally and physically:

  • The aerobic activity will prepare your cardiovascular system for exercise.
  • The dynamic stretching will not only prepare your joints and ligament for similar movements you’ll be doing in your workout, but it will also raise and maintain body temperature as you enter your workout. (static stretching can drop your temperature).
  • By practicing visualization and including mental prep in your warm up, you’ll not only be laser focused for your workout, but you’ll improve movement efficacy lowering your risk of injury.

Things to do before (and during) your workout to prevent injury bonus tips:

  • Eat some carbs.

    Glucose is fuel for your brain. If you don’t eat any carbs pre workout or have been on a low carb diet for a long time, your reaction time suffers. In an intense workout, this can lead to injury when you’re performing a complex movement like a box jump.

  • Train hard but train smart.

    Unless you’re an aspiring professional athlete or are already one, you need to listen to your body. Understand this before you enter your workout. Trying to break a personal record on your deadlift or 10k run is great, but if you do it at the expense of a herniated disk or stress fracture in your foot, it’s not worth much. You don’t get paid to do this; train hard, but train smart.

  • Intra-workout nutrition is important.

    During your workout, you want to minimize protein degradation, meaning you don’t want your body to resort to your lean body mass for fuel. When your workouts run for a long time, intra-workout nutrition becomes critical for you to preserve lean muscle mass. Intra-workout nutrition will also help you prevent injury as well. How? By making sure you avoid low blood glucose and avoiding depletion of glycogen (stored carbohydrate) with a intra-workout drink, you keep yourself away from leaving the door open for injury with the symptoms of low blood glucose like dizziness, shakiness, headache, blurred vision and weakness. None of these sound like they provide an optimal workout environment, right? A general prescription for intra workout drinks is to have 10–15g of carbohydrates and a blend of branch chain amino acids every 30 minutes.

So when is the best time to stretch? (And yes, you should stretch!) There are two times when you should perform static stretching, which are right after your workout as a cool down or if you are doing a yoga session. A cool down consisting of stretching will slow down the physiological functions of your body enhancing your recovery after your workout. Performing your cool down outdoors or in a natural environment is great for allowing your mind and body to enter a calming recuperative state after an intense workout. By combining both a warm up and cool down to your workout sessions, you will improve your health and decrease the chance of injury.