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Is It Ever a Good Idea to Stretch? How About Cooling Down? Recent Studies Offer Clues

Should athletic people stretch? If so, when?

Author Gretchen Reynolds, the inquisitive Phys Ed columnist for The New York Times, has been evaluating studies on stretching recently.

Earlier this month she cited 2 studies that reinforce the “growing scientific consensus that pre-exercise stretching is generally unnecessary and likely counterproductive.”

Of particular interest were findings on “so-called static stretching”—stationary stretches such as toe-touches. She reported one study showed that “static stretching reduces strength in the stretched muscles by almost 5.5 percent, with the impact increasing in people who hold individual stretches for 90 seconds or more.”


Research suggests athletes should save any stretching activity for after workouts. (REI photo: Damon Parrish)

Today Reynolds responded to a reader’s question on the topic: Is there any time that stretching is beneficial?

Reynolds reports that nothing is conclusive, but recent studies show post-exercise stretching appears to offer these benefits:

  • Reduces muscle soreness caused by strenuous exercise, though the reduction may be minimal.
  • Increases the range of motion in joints.

What about following a structured cool-down routine following exercise? Maybe, maybe not, Reynolds surmised this week after reviewing other recent studies on the subject.

In one study flexibility and muscle soreness did not differ between 2 groups of subjects, one that formally cooled down and one that did not. Meanwhile, other experts that Reynolds cited pointed out that a casual walk lasting a few minutes following a workout helps people restore a sense of normalcy to both body and brain.

“A cool-down, in other words, feels nice,” Reynolds writes. Plus, says a research she quotes, “none of the scientific research shows any negative effects due to performing a cool-down.”

As the weather starts turning more springlike in more section of the country, more people are taking their workouts outside. What, if any, is your post-workout routine?


Wondering if you need a post-workout cool-down routine? Research indicates it's not necessary, but it won't hurt. (REI photo: Damon Parrish)

Posted on at 12:44 PM

Tagged: Gretchen Reynolds, New York times, Stretching, cool down and nature

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Stretching should not be confused with warming up. Why talk about cooling down and not warming up? Warming up reduces injuries. Stretching is an exercise in and of itself that improves range of motion. When you stretch, you should still, first do light aerobic work to warm up muscles.

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