Illustration: Maria Chimishkyan

Test Gym

I Quit Stretching and So Can You

The case against stretching has science on its side

Elemental
Published in
6 min readSep 23, 2020

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I was a devoted stretcher for years. My high school track team began every practice with a ritualized routine of stretches, and all through my college running career, I would never begin a run without bending down to stretch my hamstrings. Until eventually I started looking into the scientifically verified benefits of stretching, and I was shocked to discover that I couldn’t find any. Sure, stretching can improve your flexibility — practice touching your toes enough, and you’ll increase your reach — but beyond that, the confirmed advantages to stretching are non-existent. There are even a few hints that stretching could be detrimental to athletic performance in some circumstances. After seeing this spelled out in so many scientific studies, I quit stretching cold turkey, and I’ve experienced no discernible harms.

My indoctrination into stretching is pretty typical. I stretched, because it was what runners did. Stretching was supposed to make me less sore and prevent injury. I also thought it loosened up my muscles, never mind that my hamstrings have been tight every day of my life, stretching or not. But it’s the notion that stretching could protect me from injury that was the most compelling to me. “I don’t know where it came from, but the idea that stretching is necessary to prevent injury has a long history,” says Adam Meakins, a sports physiotherapist and strength and conditioning specialist in Hertfordshire, England. “There’s a lot of fear around it,” he says, propagated by health care providers and the media touting stretching’s powers to prevent injury, despite evidence to the contrary. Even so, stretching has become a hallowed part of sports tradition. A 2016 survey of more than 600 personal trainers in the U.S. found that a staggering 80% of them included stretching in their exercise programs.

Before you stretch, ask yourself: What’s your goal?

Despite such popularity, researchers have failed to confirm the purported benefits of stretching. But before we get into the science, a few definitions. Stretching has an almost endless array of variations, but for our purposes here, stretching means “static” stretching — lengthening…

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Christie Aschwanden
Elemental

Author of GOOD TO GO: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery (Norton, 2019). Twitter: @CragCrest christieaschwanden.com