Mythbusting Episode 3 – You Should Stretch Before Exercise

  1. Home
  2. Uncategorised
  3. Mythbusting Episode 3 – You Should Stretch Before Exercise

So you think you should stretch before exercise?

Let me tell you a story. I remember standing in my secondary school playground in the freezing cold wind in deepest darkest Black Country (UK readers will be able to visualise this!) doing what my PE teachers somewhat cruelly referred to as “warming up”.

It included calf and neck stretches. A few weird arm movements designed to, and I quote, “increase your bust”. This wasn’t even that long ago (although longer ago than what I’ll tell you my age is if you ask me)

I digress.

“Warming up” in this situation only served to make me dislike exercise and movement even more.

But let’s discuss shall we, because stretching as a warm-up is quite a widespread practice. How useful is it really though? And is there something else we could be doing instead that would be better for us?

Let’s delve into what you’re trying to achieve by stretching to warm-up anyway:

To make you feel looser?

To improve your performance?

To prevent injury?

To increase flexibility?

To decrease muscle soreness after exercise?

All understandable desires.  So, to unpack them:

  • To make you feel looser –

There’s no denying that stretching will make you feel loose and relaxed. However, when you’re about to perform a set of heavy double kettlebell presses, do you want to feel loose and relaxed?


Stretching a muscle will make it less tense. We need tension when we’re about to lift something heavy (including our own bodyweight).

There is one exception to this rule; hip flexors. Overly tense hip flexors will prevent your glutes from being able to maximally extend your hips – you need maximum hip extension for the top of your deadlift, swing, squat and press; the bits where I say “squeeze your bum” so yeah, importante.

You may stretch your hip flexors before you train.

You’re welcome.

stretch before exercise


  • To improve your performance?

It won’t if you do it before you do some hard physical work. Stretching muscles will decrease their explosive power and reduces elastic energy. You won’t move as powerfully or quickly.

  • To prevent injury and increase flexibility?

Evidence doesn’t actually back up this idea either. Injuries generally happen if your muscle isn’t producing enough force or contracting enough at the right time to support itself or the soft tissue around it during a loaded movement. This isn’t anything to do with how flexible it is, rather how strong or how well-coordinated it moves.

This is fixable by getting stronger and moving intelligently. It’s the difference between mobility and flexibility. You could touch your toes if I sat on your back and pushed you, but if you don’t own that range of motion without me pushing you, you’re probs gonna get injured when I do!

  • To decrease muscle soreness after exercise?

Again, evidence suggests not. Your muscles will be sore if you do something that shocks them; something new. I’ve got another post on muscle soreness if you want to explore that rabbit hole. Whether or not you stretch before you do it has no effect on how they feel afterwards.

So, it would seem that stretching mostly has limited use as a warm-up for strength training. Well, I head you ask, what should we do instead then?

Warming up is vital, first of all. You will make more lifts, and have more fun as a result, if your body is primed for lifting and moving strongly.

A good warm up should last about ten minutes and:

  • replicate the movements in your programme with lighter weights/bodyweight so that your brain knows what’s coming (pressing? Do some light ones. Squatting? Do some bodyweight ones)
  • stretch your hip flexors so that you can use your glutes properly
  • do something explosive (kettlebell swings, there are other ideas but kettlebell swings ticks A LOT of boxes so do those)

There. You’re warmed up. Drop me an email if you’d like me to give you some pointers on how to make a good warm-up for one of your training routines.

Then, at the end of your training session, stretch whatever feels juicy simply because it feels good to explore movement, and we’re here to make our bodies feel good, right?

Other posts you might like…

Enquire today and get 1-1 personal training sessions online that’ll help you become fitter and healthier with professional guidance.