Most people believe that stretching and warming up prior to a long workout or any kind of physical activity is required in order to avoid injury. While it definitely puts our minds in the right place for the event, it may not actually have significant physical benefits.Photo by Tony Alter.
Over at the New York Times, they point out that if you ask top-performing athletes from different sports whether they stretch and warm up prior to their events or regular workout routines, you'll get a number of different answers. One world record holder explained that she spends more time warming up for her marathon events than others do running. Another Olympic swimmer points out that she barely warms up at all for her races. Doctors note there is a theory for why long warm-up routines should be beneficial -- namely that muscles expand and contract more efficiently after they have been for a while -- there's little research to support the theory.
Since there's a lack of research consensus on whether you absolutely should warm up and stretch prior to exercise, ultimately the real benefit may be mental and not physical. One doctor, Andrew Fradkin of Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, noted that in her studies of golf players, a warm-up routine of practice swings and light exercise put the golfer's mind in the right place and led to better performance.
Still, she noted that the results aren't necessarily applicable to all sports. In the end, if you feel that a warm-up routine is really helping you, there's no reason to stop, but if you feel like you're wasting your time, skip the warm-up.
The Right Way to Warm Up Is (Your Answer Here) [New York Times]