Research on 23 studies of athletes who performed stretching exercises before tests of sporting performance showed nearly all had a bad effect. One study showed that static stretching before a jump test reduced the maximum height by three-quarters of an inch. A review of six studies of stretching before exercise found that not one demonstrated it prevented injury. Ian Shrier, a Canadian epidemiologist who conducted both reviews, in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, said: "At first people thought I was crazy." But other researchers have since reached similar conclusions.
The best way to prevent injury and prepare for exercise is to do a proper warm-up routine to get blood flowing to the muscles. Doing calf stretches before a run does not benefit the leg muscles because they are never stretched in the extreme position while running. Almost all over-use injuries are strains that occur when the body is in the normal range of motion and are the result of improper training not lack of stretching.
Dr. James Brown, a specialist in sports medicine and spokesman for the UK Association of Doctors in Sport, said: "Stretching before exercise probably increases the risk of injury. Your muscles are never going to get warm. Unfortunately you do still see people doing it everywhere. You won't see elite athletes doing it. They will do a warm-up. If you go jogging or go to the gym at lunchtime there is no need to stretch first. If one stretches at all, one should stretch after exercise or at a time not related to exercise.
- Start with a gentle warm-up, of the muscles you plan to use
- Increasing blood flow to muscles gets them contracting the way they will need to for the exercise
- Static stretching can stiffen muscles and dynamic (ballistic) stretching can cause immediate injury. Don’t do it!
- If you still feel you need to stretch, do so only at a time when you are not exercising. Consider taking yoga to learn stretching techniques that may be useful.