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Feature

A man stretching at the U of M Rec Center.

It may be time to take a look at how you warm up before exercise.

Forget reaching for those toes; increase your heart rate instead

Increase your heart rate instead

By Jamie Proulx

Originally published on August 10, 2004

Stretching out before and after we exercise has been a widely accepted practice to avoid injury and increase performance. But is it really good for us? Stretching is often the prescription to prevent sore muscles and pulled hamstrings, yet new evidence suggests that more stretching does not necessarily mean fewer injuries. It could actually make us more susceptible to injuries by weakening our muscles.

Stacy Ingraham, University of Minnesota exercise physiologist, says stretching may make us feel good, but the evidence in support of stretching is more anecdotal than scientific. Instead, research shows that increasing cardiovascular activities--things that elevate the resting heart rate and use all muscle groups, like running, stair stepping, or treadmill walking--is a larger factor in avoiding overall injuries during other types of exercise.

Stretching is often the prescription to prevent sore muscles and pulled hamstrings, yet new evidence suggests that more stretching does not necessarily mean fewer injuries.

So should we stop reaching for our toes? Ingraham would say yes. "As long as we are doing activities that elicit a full range of motion (like running), stretching does not appear to be necessary [before or after any activity]." Others advise warming up by jogging slowly or performing movements--like a golf swing--lightly at first. They all agree we need to keep moving and exercising for optimal health.