Stretching has become something that’s almost universally accepted as something good to do before or after a workout.
Everybody says stretching is good for you, most people don’t practice it, and the ones that stretch are actually exaggerating or just doing some nonsense moves they don’t even understand.
The reason why you should stretch is simple: to be able to perform the moves you need to perform with maximum safety and full range of motion.
You can also think about stretching as a good way to improve your posture.
Before I talk about stretching, you have to understand
The Difference Between Muscle Tightness And Muscle Shortness
Muscle shortness is actual shortness is a structural issue.
The muscle fibers themselves have changed their structure.
They became shortened.
For example, your biceps muscle can get shortened if you have an arm injury that requires you to keep your arm flexed for months.
In that case, it’s probably good to stretch in order to lengthen the muscle tissue. But it takes a lot of time.
At the other side of the equation is “muscle tightness”.
It is dictated by your nervous system.
Muscle Tightness Or Muscle Shortness?
People often mistake tightness for shortness.
They think that the muscle has actually changed and it became tight when in fact it’s their nervous system that’s sending a signal to that muscle to have an increased tone.
For example, you can have your hamstrings feel tight even if you stretch them every day. Then there’s nothing wrong with your muscle structure.
Your nervous system is making that area tight.
The thing is… you already have the mobility to perform more flexible movements that you are currently “able”. It’s there.
But your nervous system doesn’t let you.
Stretching helps with making your nervous system to stop perceiving the new range of motion as a threat
Previous research tried to find out if stretching decreases the amount of muscle or strength you can gain if done before a workout.
There are studies showing that stretching can decrease your power output (1)
And it gets even worse if (2,3) you go right into your workout session after stretching because it seems it can decrease the amount of reps you can do for the exercise that’s after the stretch.
While these studies did show negative effects on the amount of reps and power output you can do, they didn’t examine how they would impact your ability to gain muscle or strength.
How Stretching Before A Workout Impacts Your Performance
A 2017 study (7) came out and examined how static stretching impacts your strength, muscle gaining, and flexibility.
Over 10 weeks of training sessions, people that weren’t involved with weights trained one quad right after a stretching session, and the other one without stretching.
They found that total reps and total volume load (sets x reps x load) were about 15-20% higher for the unstretched muscle compared to the stretched one.;’;
They saw identical strength gains between the two legs.
And it seems that the unstretched quad managed to add a bit more muscle mass than the stretched quad.
And lastly but not least, the leg that was stretched before exercise saw more increases in flexibility compared to the unstretched one.
So basically stretching right before exercise seems to negatively impact hypertrophy and strength gains but improves your range of motion.
static stretching right before exercising seems to decrease your performance (force, reps, power).
But there are ways to minimize or avoid the negative impact of stretching on your exercise and ability to add muscle and strength.
A study showed that 10 minutes of pause between your stretching session and the start of your workout routine seems to mitigate any negative effects that stretching has on your performance.
The second way showed by research (5,6) to make sure your performance is not affected is by adding a dynamic warmup session in between your workout and your stretching session.
- Stretching before your workout seems to not compromise your strength gains
- Incorporating stretching can increase your flexibility
- Stretching right before your workout can decrease your rate of muscle growth
The Practical Tip
- To avoid any negative effects that stretching can have on your performance, make sure to leave 5-10 minutes in between the stretching and your workout session.
- Insert a short dynamic warm-up session or just wait a few minutes after you stretch.
Don’t give up stretching.
It’s one of the best ways to increase your flexibility and improve the range of motion when you exercise