Pre-workout stretching has long been a subject of controversy. Some argue that it is helpful to stretch the muscles prior to exercise so that they are at reduced risk of injury, while others have said that stretching cold muscles in itself increases the risk of injury. The latest research is showing that pre-workout exercise is potentially dangerous and can cause small tears in the muscle tissue.
A new report from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention says that while we are stretching, the body reacts as if it may be overstretched, leading to muscle contractions and greater tension. This greater tension can increase the risk of injury to the muscles. The report reviewed the results of over 100 studies on stretching and concluded that people who stretch before working out have no lower incidence of injury than those who do not stretch. A 2008 study showed that stretching before workouts actually resulted in the muscles generating less force than when stretching was not done. A New York Times report in 2008 revealed that some studies have found that stretching actually reduces muscle strength.
As an alternative to stretching before working out, experts suggest warming up thoroughly before strenuous activity. Doing low-intensity activity such as light jogging, improves blood flow to the muscles and increasing body temperature. Stretching should be reserved for after exercise, when the muscles are warm and when flexibility can be increased. However, even then, only those who really need flexibility, such as gymnasts and dancers, need to spend extended periods of time stretching their muscles. Generally, recreational athletes can gain the benefits of stretching through basic static stretches, held for 15 seconds, after working out.
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