Stretching Before Exercising Doesn't Prevent Injuries

July 13, 2009|By Cynthia Billhartz Gregorian | Cynthia Billhartz Gregorian,McClatchy-Tribune

Arvelle White lifts weights three or four times a week. Before he even looks at a dumbbell, though, he hops on a treadmill and runs for 20 minutes.

When asked if he stretches first, White, 33, of Pasadena Hills, Mo., said no.

"But I probably should," he added, sheepishly.

As it turns out, White has been doing things right.

In 2004, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reviewed 361 research studies done by the epidemiology program office and found no evidence that stretching before or after exercise prevents injury or muscle soreness. Specifically, they were looking at traditional stretching, also known as static stretching, which involves holding a stretched pose for several seconds or more. Think splits or toe touches.

Dr. William Meller, an internist in Santa Barbara, Calif., believes we can study our ancestors from the Stone Age to figure out what's good for us and what's not. Basking in the sun - for vitamin D - and eating red meat - for protein - are good, Meller says. Stretching before rigorous exercise is not.

"Can you imagine a caveman engaging in a program of stretching before heading out to chase down prey?" he asks in his recent book, Evolution Rx: A Practical Guide to Harnessing Our Innate Capacity for Health and Healing.

Some sports medicine experts, such as Dr. Herbert Haupt, of Orthopedic Associates in Des Peres, Mo., say static stretching inhibits performance and might even cause micro-tears in tendons, ligaments and muscle tissue.

"We recommend light stretching only after warming up," Haupt says.

Some experts say that dynamic stretching before exercise is the way to go. And you do it by moving through stretches without pausing or holding a position.

You can also warm up, says Haupt, by doing your exercise at half-speed. For instance, runners would start with a slow jog and build speed. A pitcher could rotate her arms in a pitching motion and lob balls softly.

Haupt adds that it's vital for senior athletes to do traditional stretching but only after their main workout.

"Stretching is fundamentally important for the muscles around the joint to minimize arthritis and degeneration," he says.

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