Physiotherapy Wellbeing & Fitness

Fact Check: Stretching before Exercise

Written by Mr Jeremy Granville-Chapman for Doctify

If you asked me what the one cardinal rule of exercising was, I would immediately hear my school P.E. teacher’s voice echoing in my brain. ‘ALWAYS STRETCH FIRST!’ This is a belief so firmly held that it has entered the very mythology of exercise. Characters on television and in movies are always lunging before working out. Either that or bending over and reaching their arms into the air in preparation for a run. But is it actually necessary? Will your daily jog be any easier or your muscles be any more protected if you stretch first?

We asked leading Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon, Mr Jeremy Granville-Chapman about the advantages of stretching. He told us, “Many athletes stretch before and after exercise. Their rationale is usually to reduce injury and muscle soreness, or to improve performance. However, the evidence of benefit is limited.”

So, does stretching actually reduce risk of injury ?

Luckily, Cochrane database has done the research for us in 2011. According to the research, “six randomised trials (total over 5000 participants) were assessed. Pre-exercise stretching provided no significant reduction in lower limb soft tissue injury rates compared to no-stretching controls.” So far, my P.E. teacher should be looking red faced.

But what about aches and pains? The same research states that “pre-exercise stretching (compared to no stretching) achieved only half-a-percentage reduction in soreness on day 1 after exercise.” A separate study from 2012 also confirmed that the “need for flexibility is sport-specific. If you are a gymnast, stretching will be a regular part of your training. If you are a jogger flexibility is not so important.”

As our expert, Mr Granville-Chapman concludes, “Unless your sport requires high levels of flexibility then there is minimal evidence to support meaningful benefit from pre-exercise stretching. It is probably a waste of your time.”

Medical Myth: False

Despite childhood habits to the contrary, stretching before exercise won’t do anything to ease your aching limbs. Nor will they protect you from a pulled hamstring. However, our expert does make it clear that warming up is still important.

“Warm up activities are still recommended. They have been shown to improve performance (e.g. sprint times) and reduce injury rates.”


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Book an appointment with Mr Jeremy Granville-Chapman