Why Stretching May Be Bad Before a Workout


SO I get a copy of the NSCA’s two journals delivered to my door whenever they get published, but don’t get too jealous of this fact, seeing as how I pay for it every year. Most of the time the Research-oriented publication spends a butt-load of time talking about cycling for some reason, as well as a bunch of other stuff that doesn’t apply to anything I’m doing or any clients I’m working with. It’s pretty much mandatory reading for insomniacs most of the time. However, every now and then there’s a gem produced that makes it all worth while.

I felt this way when the recent issue came across my desk, and an article inside was titled Acute effects of Two Different Stretching Methods on Local Muscular Endurance Performance. In other words, “should I stretch before I get my crush on at the gym, and if so what will make me get all jacked up the bestest!!???”

Here’s the dealio. There’s a lot of talk around the industry about static stretching. Some, like Mike Boyle, believe it’s incredibly important to athletic power and performance variables, and can back it up with anecdotal evidence from his athletes as well as research to boot. I would expect nothing less from the Godfather. Others feel that static stretching beforehand is akin to giving someone a hammer and telling them to swing away at your knees, spine, and any other body parts you value.

So this article kinda intrigued me, as there hasn’t been a school of thought that I’ve completely bought into as of yet.  This was actually a cool test, as they took 15 people, checked out their 1 rep max, and then saw how many reps the could complete on a bench press and leg extension with various percentages of their max. They set up three groups: a no-stretch group, a static stretch group, and a PNF stretch group, which was more like CRAC stretching than classic PNF stretching through spiral diagonal planes of motion. They checked max reps possible at 40%, 60% and 80% 1 rep max and checked to see which group had the best results.

So guess what happened??

The no-stretch group won the battle hands down in both tests at all intensities. The PNF group was hugely affected. Static stretching didn’t produce a significant difference in power compared to the no-stretch group, however, it also didn’t produce any benefit to performance, which would beg the question “why would you actually stretch before strength training??”

So if we were to take this information and use it to design a program for someone looking to get stronger, how would we use it?? Well, if we took this ball and ran with it, we’d give up stretching prior to working out, as it doesn’t seem to improve performance versus not stretching. Since it doesn’t help, there isn’t any use for it, so let’s turf it.

So I’m sure you’re also thinking “Well what about foam rolling or active dynamic flexibility??”  Well, in another article, the researchers showed foam roller work reduced fatigue and soreness compared with performing a plank exercise, but had no impact on performance. This means that since the participant wasn’t as sore, they could potentially work harder during their workouts and get more adaptation over the long-term.

So how do you use this information?? Well, let’s take for example a common workout flow that I use with a lot of my clientele:

General warmup and cardio

Foam rolling

Active mobilization of identified weak joints

Strength, conditioning and skill-based work

Static and PNF stretching at the end of the workout

And for your information, my arm tattoo is a rope with a knot in it, because I’m waaaaaay more bad-ass than barbed wire. You get more done with rope, and that shit looks so much more awesome.

So in conclusion, if you’re looking to get your swole on in the gym or start tearing up the track and running like Flo-Jo, static stretching won’t obliterate your muscles and cause performance to drop like a rock, but if you do more in-depth stretching before you workout, like PNF, you may be a hurting unit under the bar. Then everyone will mock you and your flaccid muscles. No one will talk to you, except old dudes in shortie shorts who try to tell you that you shouldn’t put so much weight on the bar because you’re such a pansy and can’t lift it.

That’s my take on it, but what do you think? Leave a comment below to let me know what you do with stretching, whether you agree with the current article or think it total bunk, or simply to let me know how dreamy my eyes are.

About deansomerset

Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, Post-Rehab Specialist, personal trainer and probably the coolest guy my mom knows, I try to impart a little knowledge with a sense of humor to keep people reading. I've always thought if it's something that can grab your attention, you're gonna remember it tomorrow!!
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8 Responses to Why Stretching May Be Bad Before a Workout

  1. Ben Bruno says:

    Dean- I would be curious to see how long the participants in that study waited between stretching and performing their work sets. My intution tells me that static stretching would reduce strength temporarily, but it comes back in a couple minutes. This is based off nothing more than my own experience. If the study has people do their work set directly after the long stretch, it isn’t terribly relibable in my mind because realistically, you will stretch first, then do some warm up sets, sit and talk, etc., so a good amount of time will elapse from when you stretched to when you actually perform your hard sets.

    In any case, I have also static stretched prior to lifting (before ever working at MBSC and seeing how Mike does it). For upper body, I just do a few quick stretches (about a minute total), but for lower body I actually take quite a bit of time to stretch my hip flexors, glutes, and sometimes my calves. I am able to do my leg exercises better than if I do not stretch before. When I don’t stretch first, I struggle a little bit to get into the deep squat position whereas if I stretch a little (and I mean a little, probably 3-4 mintues total) my form ends up being much better, which in my mind more than makes up for any loss of strength that might occur from stretching. I also feel a whole lot better.

    Interesting topic though. Nice work.

    • deansomerset says:

      Benny, totally agree, the researchers forgot to mention the time delay between stretching and work sets. Who knows, they may have put the PNF’ers under the bar right away and gave the static stretchers a few hours to kill before loading them. Plus, they described the range of motion achieved with the stretch as “until gentle discomfort,” which doesn’t give any specifics to joint angles, etc. The interesting thing is that there really wasn’t much of a difference in performance when someone stretched versus not stretching for these two highly controlled tests, but as you mentioned I am sure they would be drastically different for an open-chain movement like a squat (possible masters topic for you??? hint hint hint.). Fantastic comment!!!

  2. Danny says:

    Dean,

    I usually foam roll the entire body before anything. I’ve done it every day for the past year and change, alomg with some activation and dynamic stretching exercises afterwards. I switch up the patterns and just go with how I’m feeling on a particular day. I don’t necessarily spend much time stretching one muscle versus the other because I don’t necessarily agree with stretching one area simply because it feels tight. lack of mobility, tightness, etc. can be coming from so many thing, even beyond areas that are studied that I think it’s foolish in a way to spend so much time in one area. There is a lot going on with each person, especially when it comes to yourself, and I feel better addressing things by covering as much as I can pre-workout. Not to mention, I think so much of what we do is highly dependent on how we feel our actions will help. Placebo effect is an undoubtedly profound experience.

    • deansomerset says:

      Danny, fantastic comment. I totally agree the placebo effect may be present with any type of movement, be it foam rolling or static stretching, or it could be the effect of a coach or trainer saying “this will work” making the person believe it.

  3. Paula says:

    Oh Dean, your eyes are soooooo dreamy!

    *snicker*

  4. Sean says:

    I’ve read enough of the research to believe that no one has the ‘true’ answer to the age old question of pre-workout stretching (your blog post proves that theory). Maybe each to his own?
    I know it’s not the most ‘appropriate’ or most functional, but since I can remember I have always done light to heavy static stretching (with and without warm up) prior to a workout or training session.
    I only notice ‘deficits’ when I don’t stretch? Maybe it’s psychological?
    Did anyone take into consideration the subject’s baseline flexibility? We all know that stretching an inflexible muscle/tendon complex does not produce the same effect as stretching more flexible complexes. Just food for thought.
    Thanks for the knowledgeable and applicable information Dean. Much appreciated.

    • deansomerset says:

      Hi Sean. I agree, this seems to be a question with more polarizing aspects to it than most involving fitness. Personally, I prefer to retain some level of stiffness for the workout, as being too “loose” makes me feel less than optimal. Different strokes for different folks. True, there were a lot of variables that weren’t corrected for, but the door was left open for future research by others, so hopefully this isn’t the last word on the topic, but merely a line in the conversation.

  5. Jim says:

    Is there a certification so that I can have dreamy eyes like yours Deano boy!?!?!

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