Stretching before exercise is 'useless'

The decades-old belief that stretching before exercise will prevent injuries is bunkum, according to an Australian scientist. You are just as likely to hurt yourself whether you stretch or not.

The decades-old belief that stretching before exercise will prevent injuries is bunkum, according to an Australian scientist. You are just as likely to hurt yourself whether you stretch or not.

A controlled study of 2,600 soldiers conducted over 12 months found no difference in the injury rates between those who stretched their leg muscles before exercise, and those who did not. Now the Australian Army has been told to scrap the whole procedure of stretching.

An army physiotherapist, Rod Pope, and colleagues at the University of Sydney and Charles Sturt University in New South Wales, monitored recruits who stretched particular leg muscles before exercise plus those who did not.

"We were able to rule out even a quite small effect of stretching," Mr Pope, a physiotherapist with the Kapooka Medical Company 1st Recruit Training Battalion in NSW told New Scientist magazine. "This has not been properly researched before. Stretching was assumed to work in preventing injury, but there was no evidence to suggest that it did."

The idea that pre-stretching is of little use surprised at least one British sports scientist. "It certainly sounds at odds with accepted practice," said Professor Edward Winter, of the physiological exercise department at Sheffield Hallam University. "But then again, it doesn't mean that he hasn't found something."

The work is due to be published soon in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.

"I'll look forward to reading that," Professor Winter said.

Mr Pope is confident of his findings. "We are telling the army no longer to stretch," he said. "But it's a long tradition and tradition dies hard."

He does, however, advise people to stretch muscles which are tight and could restrict the normal range of movement. He also believes that stretching after exercise - once the body is warm - could be beneficial, although that has not been studied and so there is no evidence to support this.

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