It was, and to some people’s minds still is, considered good practice to stretch before vigorous physical activity. However, in both trial studies and the experience of athletes in many sports, it has been found that the pre-workout stretch is not all that important to either cardiovascular or strength training sessions.
Generally speaking, the pre-workout warm-up period is of much greater importance than the pre-workout stretch, and if performed at all, stretching should fall in as part of or subsequent to the warm up. Sport- and event-specific stretching may still be desirable for some athletes in competition – like before hurdling in a track-and-field meet. For a typical cardiovascular workout, such as jogging or stair climbing, this isn’t necessarily the case.
Warming up consists of some light activity to raise one’s respiratory rate, increase blood flow throughout the entire body, and elevate core temperature. The warm up appropriately loosens dormant muscles, reduces tightness in all soft tissues, and increases blood flow into and out of muscles. It is proceeding into vigorous activity when “cold,” rather than failing to stretch, that can easily lead to injury. A good warm up could consist of 5 to 15 minutes of one or more of the following:
- Walking briskly,
- Performing several sets of a particular exercise, or a variety of exercises, with lighter weight,
- Jumping jacks,
- Jogging in place, or
- Jumping rope for several minutes or until mildly perspiring.
When the warm up is done, and only then, should any pre-cardiovascular workout stretching be considered, and, it should be oriented to functional stretches anticipating movements to come by gently taking applicable body parts through their full range of motion.
Too much stretching before a workout can actually lower your performance, even in endurance activities. The problem with a big dose of pre-workout stretching is that it can reduce tendon stiffness and muscular tension which is beneficial for power production and delivery as well as scuttling the elastic energy stored in tense, albeit soft, tissue.
Stretching during intermittent activity is more useful for staying limber as the body may be, depending on the duration of inactivity, cooling down too much. Again, however, this applies to activities other than a typical cardiovascular workout; cardio is properly a sustained activity.