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November 7, 2008

Stretching Does Not Warm Up Muscles

Here's something we learned in physiology: Don't stretch before a strenuous workout.

Stretching does nothing for warming up the body for physical exertion. In fact, it can make your muscles weaker for up to an hour before a workout, which is disastrous if you're competing. The reason that stretching makes your muscles weaker, is because the stretch actually unsticks the mechanisms inside your muscles (stuff that is sort of like velcro) that helps the muscle contract. It takes up to an hour for the myosin and actin heads inside muscle fibrils to recuperate and match up for ideal contractile power in the muscle.

To warm up before exercise, if your exercise is aerobic, then jog slowly for about 5 minutes. I walk before I jog, because jogging is my workout!. If your exercise is resistance training, lift light weights for 5 to 10 minutes before you work out. Warming up muscles, tendons and ligaments makes them more powerful with better range of motion, increases blood flow and enzyme activity for efficient metabolism, and raises heart rate in increments that don't stress the heart (think about the couch potato that shovels snow after a blizzard, only to have a heart attack).

Warming up actually helps to prevent exercise related injury. It refers back to that increased range of motion portion of the equation that I mentioned above. So, speaking of flexibility, where does stretching fit in a workout? You wouldn't want to stretch right before a competition, but stretching can go anywhere in your workout that you want. Putting stretching at the end of your exercises will not increase flexibility any more than having stretching anywhere else in your workout. And there is no evidence that stretching prevents injury or prevents delayed-onset muscle soreness.

Personally, I like stretching at the end of a run as a reward for a good workout because it just feels good.

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Posted by linda at November 7, 2008 8:19 PM

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