Stretching before exercise may be a waste of time, a study suggests.
The elaborate limbering up routines favoured by many athletes and gym-goers do little to prevent muscle aches and stiffness, researchers found. Stretching muscles after exercise may be equally pointless, they say.
The findings, published today in a respected medical journal, are likely to prove fiercely contentious as fitness experts have long advised that stretching is vital to increase flexibility, improve performance and reduce the risk of injury. However, a number of studies in the last few years have cast doubt on the efficacy of stretching, some even suggesting that it may cause more problems than it solves.
Having more pliable muscles, they say, could increase the risk of strains, while stretching can cause tiny tears in muscle tissue.
The latest analysis does not study the effect of stretching on injury prevention, but on muscle soreness after exercise.
A team from the University of Sydney compiled the results of ten small scientific trials, each involving between 10 and 30 people.
These had examined the effects of stretching between 40 seconds and 600 seconds before exercise.
"The 10 studies produced very consistent findings," said Dr Robert Herbert, from the school of physiotherapy at the university, in the journal Cochrane Review. "They showed there was minimal, or no effect, on the muscle soreness experienced between half a day and three days after the physical activity."