Stretching? You're better off pushing weights.

As I sit here with my swollen, inflexible knee, the oft-repeated mandate to stretch to prevent injuries comes to mind. But will stretching, dynamic or otherwise, decrease my chances of injury? The topic has been extensively studied, and there is little to no evidence that static stretching is good for anything.

Take the venerable publication Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition, by the Department of Health and Human Services. I quote:

"Stretching exercises are effective in increasing flexibility, and thereby can allow people to more easily do activities that require greater flexibility. For these reasons, flexibility activities are an appropriate part of a physical activity program, even though their health benefits are unknown and it is unclear whether they reduce risk of injury. Time spent doing flexibility activities by themselves does not count toward meeting the aerobic or muscle-strengthening key guidelines."

The guidelines indicate that stretching is beneficial if your activity requires flexibility, such as salsa dancing or ballet. However, a review of the evidence shows that stretching has no demonstrated benefit in reducing injuries in runners, falls or overall mortality in seniors, or sports performance in sports, unless you're engaged in a flexibility-related activity. There is some evidence that dynamic stretching in the context of an overall warmup may associated with a reduction in injuries. However, it is arguable that dynamic stretching is more akin to calisthenics than stretching. Full-range movements have been advocated by the strength training community for probably as much as a century, although the effects of the full range of motion are ambiguous

A 2019 article in Reuters, No evidence stretching prevents running injuries quotes Richard Blagrove of Loughborough University in the UK:

"If runners wish to do a small amount of static stretching and find anecdotally that it helps them, it probably won't negatively impact performance or increase injury risk," he told Reuters Health by email. "Rather than prioritizing static stretching, runners would be better off engaging with specific strength training exercises and progressing their running at a sensible rate to avoid injury."

 

Stretching and injury prevention: an obscure relationship