Hate to Stretch? Don’t Have Time to Stretch? I Have Good News!

I have never admitted this before, but I hate to stretch. It bores the heck out of me.

When I stretch, I always think to myself that I could be using this time to burn more calories doing HIIT. I have a limited time to workout, so I simply avoid stretching. I’m going to talk about a better and more efficient way to maintain flexibility and prevent injuries.

Oh yeah, in case you didn’t know, stretching before lifting makes your muscles weaker for that workout.

man stretching before running

[Stretching before going for a run. A waste of time, or a smart way to avoid injuries?]

I Develop My Deep Hatred for Stretching in 7th Grade

I am going to talk about something that still upsets me! It revolved around a “physical fitness” test we used to have to take twice a year in Junior High.

If I remember correctly, we had to see how fast we could run the mile, how many situps we could do in 60 seconds, and a brutal stretch test.

test of hamstring flexibility

[This is the evil test I am referring to! Kryptonite for tall guys like myself. In the 80’s I feared the Impending Nuclear War with USSR, Barbara Streisand, and This Test.]

A 13 Year Old 6’3″ Freak -vs- Junior High PE Teacher

Yes, I stopped growing at the age of 13. I was really good in sports back in those days, but wasn’t flexible at all. My PE teacher’s name was Mr. Tyler.

He was out of shape, probably around 50 and had bad onion breath most of the time. I used to argue with him that flexibility had nothing to do with athletic ability. I was an outstanding sprinter and long jumper (for a 13 year old anyway) but was getting my butt handed to me in the flexibility test.

He said that I would never be a good athlete if I didn’t work on flexibility. I disagreed with him back then and still disagree with him to this day.

Before I Rip Current Stretching Practices Apart…

Studies have shown that a limited amount of stretching can be beneficial. That being said, it is MUCH less than what many people think.

After doing quite a bit of research which for the most part proves my point that a lot of stretching is a waste of time…I did find a study that showed a benefit of a limited stretching schedule.

Here is the Irony about my stretching rant. I will probably add in a very small amount of stretching into my schedule after doing all of this research.

Does that make Mr Tyler right and make me wrong after all of these years? Nope!

Stretching As A Way to Prevent Injury?

Mr Tyler, like many Junior High PE teachers, really liked to insure we did a lot of stretching before any activity. Heck, he wanted us to stretch before playing ping-pong (I still love ping-pong, but without the 10 minute stretching sessions).

The rationale behind it was that it helped prevent muscle injuries. If we were going to run a mile and Mr Tyler was around, you could count on 20 minutes of stretching.

After 3 years of stretching, I improved very little in the flexibility department and more than anything felt like I was wasting a lot of time.

Kapooka Health Centre: A study in Australia tested 1500 recruits for a 12-week training program. Half of the recruits performed stretching exercises as a warmup. The other half did not stretch at all. Overall the group that stretched had an injury rate of 22% and the group that didn’t stretch was at 21%.

University of Sydney: A study examining several other stretching studies…”We can say with a high degree of confidence that stretching does not prevent muscle soreness,” says Herbert. “We can’t rule out that it reduces injury risk, but the weight of evidence is against it.”

Time to For The Technical Side of Stretching to Be Examined

Don’t worry, I will keep is simple to avoid “zone out”. I know that the Internet is a “skimming” medium, so I’ll stick to the major points. The first thing to talk about is the two types of flexibility.

1. Active Flexibility: This is the range of motion you have under muscular control. Swinging a bat, throwing a ball, a karate kick, etc.

2. Passive Flexibility: The ability to hold extended positions using the weight or your body or other outside force. An example would be touching your toes or doing the splits.

Improving Passive Flexibility Can Create a Flexibility “Deficit”

Typically doing stretches that improve passive flexibility, won’t improve active flexibility to the same extent. The difference between passive flexibility and active flexibility is called the “flexibility deficit”.

A large flexibility deficit can create a condition for injuries to be more likely to occur. So in some ways, many of the recommended stretches can create a risky imbalance.

Lifting With a Full Range of Motion Increases Flexibility

It has been shown that lifting under a full range of motion is the best way to increase your range of motion (active flexibility) while lifting. So when you are warming up with light weights, make sure you use a full range of motion to increase flexibility.

This makes logical sense, right? To increase your range of motion lift with a full range of motion.

Note: If you are doing partials and lockouts in a certain exercise to increase strength in that exercise, you may want to add a few sets right after this where you do a full range of motion.

Stretching Before Exercising Can Reduce Muscle Strength

There are several studies showing that muscle strength can drop by 5-30% after stretching.

Supposedly stretching the muscle inhibits it’s ability to contract. The crazy thing about all of these studies is that they can’t nail down precisely why strength and power decrease with static stretching.

They acknowledge that the muscle isn’t as stiff after stretching and “believe” that this makes the muscle less likely to create as much torque.

Here are a few studies for further reading:

Wayne State College Study: Showing that bicep strength decreased 5% in tested subjects after performing static stretches.

McMaster University Study: Showing that calf strength decreased by 30% after stretching the calf muscle. This same study also measured that calf strength was still quite a bit weaker 60 minutes after stretching.

The Proper Way to Warmup Before Lifting

Basically lift with light weights and complete the full range of motion for a few sets. I recommend that you mimic the speed and tempo of lifting heavy, but with lighter weights.

You don’t want to throw the weights up and down like a piston just because they are light. “Pretend” like the weights are heavy and move at that tempo, even if the weights feel extremely light. This is also a great way to increase your strength levels in a lift.

Here is a post I did on that subject: Lift Light Weights for Low Reps to Gain Strength and Muscle Definition

Stretching Without Wasting Time…for The “Haters” 

Yes, I’m way too old to be using a word like “hater”. Forgive me…I was feeling crunk (don’t even know what that means)…back to the post, sorry! If you do want to increase your flexibility a bit, stretch after you exercise. Don’t click away just yet, it will just take a couple of minutes per day…

University of Central Arkansas:  This is my favorite study of all. The found that doing one 30 second stretch per day in a muscle group increased flexibility slightly more than doing it 3 times a day for 60 seconds.

My Stretching Summary

  • No need to do before training, it makes you weak
  •  Warmup involves doing a light version of the movement through a full range of motion
  • If you need to increase flexibility, perform just one stretch for 30 seconds each day

Note: As always there will be exceptions to the rule.

Things like injury rehab and specialty sports like gymnastics require a different approach.

62 thoughts on “Hate to Stretch? Don’t Have Time to Stretch? I Have Good News!”

  1. There is was another study done by the University of Hawaii-Manoa. They did a study with 1543 people who ran in the Honolulu Marathon. This study linked pre-workout stretching with a higher risk of injury. In this study, the runners that stretched prior to running had a 33% higher risk of injury compared to the runners that didn’t stretch.

    Stretching after a workout has shown to help your muscles recover faster.

  2. Stretching and flexibility is very important, and always forgotten by many people training.
    Personally my workouts and bootcamps i teach, start with 5 mins gentle static stretching, then 5 – 10mins of mobility exercises to get ready for hard exercising before moving onto core training.
    When teaching martial arts use same approach but maybe longer with the mobility exercises befores major kicking moves, always finish workouts with 10-15mins developmental stretching as the muscles are more productive in developing flexibility at this point.

  3. Rusty, Your comments about fitness testing in school remind me that the only thing worse than stretching was the pull up test. None of the tall skinny guys in grade school like myself could do them but the short guys just cranked them out.

    I have horrible flexibility, but I like to stretch as a relaxation technique, not to improve performance. For me it creates better body awareness, kind of like yoga or meditating. I’ve seen the studies that show diminished strength if you stretch before exercise, so I’m still surprised when I see so many college and professional athletes stretching prior to their event.

  4. Rusty you may be on to something, I stretch/warm-up before training and usually run out of gas near the end of my workouts.

    I think I will stick to a light warm up without the stretching and see how I perform.

  5. Hey Rusty..
    I’m a big fan of HIIT, and like to sprint, about 2 weeks ago i started running but couldn’t keep it up for more than a week(alternate days) cause my hamstrings were sore as hell, i know i didn’t pull a muscle but they still hurt, I’m wondering if i should or shouldn’t be stretching before my workout…hate stretching, such a waste of time, but will it prevent injury???

  6. Depends.

    I do pilates (in addition to kettles, and 50km of cycling a day) and I have never felt better. Looser muscle fibres and the pilates regime has balanced me up.

    If you have some biomechanical or physiological imbalances, stretching certainly can help (as well as weights to balance the imbalance).

    I also reckons having flexible muscles helps older people.

  7. Hey Rusty. I think a lot of people use the term “stretch” and “warm up” interchangeably. You should always warm up before exercising, especially if you plan to put a big load on your muscles, although that doesn’t necessarily mean stretching. In fact, stretching before a hard routine can actually increase your chances of injury.

    A good warm-up is usually a couple of light reps of whatever you were planning to do anyways. For example, if you’re going to lift weights and work on biceps, a good warm-up is to simply go through the exact range of motion with very light weights. Once you’ve done this a couple of times, then you can load up.

    The only way to clear things up is not to mix or misuse the terms. Unfortunately, you even hear a lot of fitness “guru’s” using the terms incorrectly….

    Hiram

  8. Hi Rusty, I never stretch before a workout although I do focus a lot on foam rolling and active stretching (from Relax into Stretch by Pavel) after my workouts or on my off days. I do the active stretching with my bootcampers a lot and they love it. I’m not a big fan of passive stretching because I never saw any benefits from it even when I did it regularly.

    My suggestion for people who are reading this post and comments is to stick to foam rolling. You will be in much better shape if you do so.

  9. You’re correct – stretching can actually weaken muscles and can lead to injury if you’re getting ready to use your muscles “explosively,” like lifting weights or sprinting.

    However, note that “stretching” is not the same as “warming up” although many people use the two terms interchangeably. Many people also use stretching as part of their warm-up, which may or may not be appropriate depending on what you’re warming up for.

    The best warm-up is to lightly perform the general actions of the exercise you plan to do. If it’s a run, then lightly run in place for a minute or two to warm up. If it’s weight lifting, then do some arm and/or trunk rotations to get the muscles limbered up and the blood flowing.

    Most experts will tell you to leave any kind of intense stretching for AFTER your exercise, not before. At that point, your muscles are already warm so the stretching will be much more effective.

    Great article, Rusty. Thanks for bringing attention to this important (and often misunderstood) topic.

    Hiram
    The Balanced Health Guy
    Certified Personal Fitness Trainer (NESTA)

  10. Not only do I hate stretching, it seemed to irritate my joints. I would stretch after some of my weight workouts. Static stretch for about 30 seconds, 3 times for each muscle group, 2-3 times a week. I had been plagued by shoulder pain that always seemed to reappear once I hit a certain weight in the bench press. I stopped stretching my shoulder to see what would happen; no pain since!

    Same deal with squats. When squatting regularly (not even full squats) my knees used to bother me in the morning and would go out when I walked up stairs. Stopped stretching my hamstrings and quads; no pain since!

    By the way, I always do a general warmup (bike, elliptical, treadmill, etc) and one or two warmup sets with light weight before my work sets.

    This was all before I read this article, but I’m glad to see someone else thinks stretching isn’t so great. It’s sad that so many armchair trainers regurgitate the outdated recommendations on stretching…and many other topics 🙁

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  12. Hey Rusty,

    God love you for posting this! lol I hate stretching sooooo much. I haven’t been working out very long, and I haven’t been stretching before I do so, so I was very pleased to see the test results you have posted here. You have a great site here – I got the link from fitconnect.com. My wife and I just joined that site recently. Also, I totally agree with what you’re saying about giant grotesque muscles compared to the “hollywood look”. That’s what i want to accomplish and I will be checking your site often for your advice and knowledge. Thanks bro

  13. Rusty,

    You are so freakin’ funny! I hate stretching too so I never did it. I don’t run as much anymore but all through high school I ran pretty much everyday. I think warming up is good enough, like a slow jog. I did like to stretch after my workout, when my muscles were a little tense, but that’s about it. Thanks for the post, it confirmed all my theories about stretching. And it was very informative and entertaining as well!

  14. First post here….am reading your site from the Canadian prairies…. -30C today, with wind! I run indoors!

    I recently added your site to my desk top right beside the very few other sites that I deem to be of high enough quality to check regularly. I stumbled into your blog when I was looking for solutions to my recent lower back injury. THANKS A WHOLE LOT FOR PUTTING THESE TRUTHS OUT HERE FOR US! No more crunches for me! Phew, I’m relieved to have sound advice to support me in that decision! My back spontaneously healed after only a week of great discomfort and after giving up any spine bending movements.

    Anyways, as far as stretching goes….I’ve always hated it because it seemed to be so pointless. I am very driven and goal oriented and I’ve got to be spending my time productively or else I get grumpy. However….I DO stretch AFTER I run. I find this helps to prevent stiffness. I only spend about 1 minute stretching out my hams, quads and calves a few times in the first hour after I run. It feels good. Pre-run ‘stretching’ is covered in the first minutes of warm-up, just going through the motions of the upcoming exertion.

    I’ve changed my running routine to your recommended HIIT combined with steady state cardio. I’ve got about 20 more pounds to lose and I’m going to tackle it this way. The first 50 pounds dropped by similar means, but much slower. I can tell that your way is going to work, it’s intense, but there is NO WAY I’m going to mess up by eating garbage after a work-out like that!

    Thanks for sharing so much goodness!!

  15. Hi Rusty,

    A friend of mine has completed 2 marathons and numerous shorter races over the years. He stretches before every run, and even stops after running for five minutes to stretch AGAIN?? before continueing to run. This tiresome (and irritating if you run with him) regime has not stopped him tearing both calves so frequently he will limp for life or prevented knee injuries. Total waste of time, I just do some runners stretches from various positions for literally a couple of minutes immediately after my run and thats it. I have never torn a muscle or had an injury which has stopped my running. I always felt stretching legs before a run could weaken them, which in turn could lead to injury don;t you think..? Cheers, Steve P.

  16. Ron,

    If you only do 1-2 exercises for your muscles, you need to do the most complex ones only. For example – dips, pushups or military press plus pullups or chinups.

    Either cover the whole body with lots of exercises, splits style, OR do 1-3 that train your whole body like the ones I mentioned.

  17. Yavor,
    Thanks for the info. I’ve pretty much been trying to only stick to cardio and maybe some bodyweight exercises lately anyway- mainly because the girlfriend can’t stand how long we’re at the gym and starts to nag me, but even then I seem to take a long time since my running alone takes me about an hour. Hence my doing nothing but running lately.

    The other day I was here without her so I took my time and got in 2 exercises for chest and 2 for back before doing my HIIT/steady jogging. I’ve discovered that I really like doing that stuff on the track much better than on a treadmill. Don’t know if it’s any better for me or not, but I get the feeling that people look at me like I’m nuts, which really amuses me. 🙂 It’s also nice to run on the track since the scenery constantly changes, even if only a slightly.

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