The Science Behind Skipping Your Post-Workout Stretch

Aleisha Fetters
by Aleisha Fetters
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The Science Behind Skipping Your Post-Workout Stretch

There was a day, not long ago, when we didn’t dare exercise without stretching first.

Then, we found out our typical static, bend-and-hold stretches, at least when performed pre-workout, sapped our muscles of the strength and stability needed for a good sweat session. So we started performing dynamic stretches such as bodyweight squats and lunges before our workouts. Meanwhile, we reserved trying to touch our toes for after our workouts, when our muscles were nice and warm and stretchy.

However, a recent review published in The Strength and Conditioning Journal shows post-workout stretching may not be beneficial at aiding in recovery at all — and may actually impede recovery.

“By stretching a worked muscle, you make it more difficult for blood to get in and out of the tissue,” explains lead author William A. Sands, PhD, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and sport technologist with the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. By limiting blood flow to and from your muscles, you limit the muscles’ ability to rid themselves of inflammatory byproducts and get their pH levels back to where they need to be to recover. Most notably, you also deprive the muscles of oxygen, Sands explains. Basically, you do everything you shouldn’t.


Meanwhile, post-workout stretching doesn’t reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (the ache that strikes 24–72 hours following new or particularly stressful workouts) to any significant degree, according to one Cochrane review of previous research.


If you’re vying for improved exercise recovery, Sands recommends ending your workouts with what he calls a “warm-down” of light aerobic or bodyweight activities. He notes that these activities cause the worked muscles to contract at low levels, which help pump byproducts out of the muscles and into the lymphatic system then ultimately out of your body. “The more you can assist in that process, the better,” he says. Research in the American Journal of Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation agrees, showing aerobic exercise is more effective than stretching at helping people recover their muscular strength following hard workouts.

Before beginning your warm-down, give yourself a few minutes for your heart rate to lower (take this as an opportunity to drink some water and towel off). Once you’re no longer panting, hop on the exercise bike or treadmill or perform light, slow, gentle bodyweight exercises such as squats, lunges or modified pushups. The key is to keep things light, ensuring your warm-down activity doesn’t stress your body to the point it adds to your exercise-induced inflammation. Sands recommends engaging in light activity for 5–10 minutes at the end of your workout before leaving the gym.

As far as your static stretching goes, it can help increase flexibility by boosting your muscles’ stretch tolerance. But you’ll want to keep that as far away from your hit-it-hard workouts as possible, he says. Stretching makes for a good “rest day” activity.

About the Author

Aleisha Fetters
Aleisha Fetters

Aleisha is a health and fitness writer, contributing to online and print publications including Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Runner’s World, TIME,, and She earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, where she concentrated on health and science reporting. She is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the NSCA. You can read more from Aleisha at, or follow her on Twitter @kafetters.


8 responses to “The Science Behind Skipping Your Post-Workout Stretch”

  1. Avatar Stephanie Schaffer says:

    Sorry, but when I don’t do a full body pre and post-workout stretch routine my muscles make me pay for it. Without stretching they hold onto lactic acid way longer (~6 extra hours) and muscle soreness lasts twice as long, at about two days. Warming down, which I always do, does not spare me these consequences, ever. If I actually followed this advice I would only be able to go to the gym twice a week versus three times, and that’s really bad advice. Maybe I’m just an extreme outlier? It would be the first time my muscles were special snowflakes in any regard.

    • Avatar Dave Gee says:

      Makes no difference at all to me personally.

      • Avatar robogo says:

        Interesting. I’m about a year into serious weightlifting and I see absolutely no difference in recovery compared to my first gym sting 10 years ago when I did stretch almost religiously.

        Do you rest enough? Eat well? Give your body everything it needs? I noticed my muscles are less sore when I have enough sleep or when I do light cardio in between my 3-times-a-week gym days (light cardio in the sense of a bike ride, brisk walk, etc).

        • Avatar Eif says:

          I would agree with asking those questions also. Anecdotal accounts from those for and against stretching are impossible to evaluate due to the vast potential for other factors to confound the outcome. I’ll pay attention to the controlled studies only.

      • Avatar Nick Fergadis Giannakopoulos says:

        Same here, no difference at all.

  2. Avatar Sarah says:

    I find it hard to buy into this..that we should not stretch properly after a work out. When I first started working out a few years ago it used to take me a long time to recover in between sessions and I believe this is down to be not warming up properly or stretching properly. Has anyone tried this method of not stretching discussed in this article to positive effect??

    • Avatar robogo says:

      I never stretch on training day. Not before a workout, not after. The only warm-up I do is a set or two of whatever I’m about to do with lighter weight and 30+ reps.

      So far, no negative effects whatsoever. My recovery time is about the same as when I did use to stretch, minus the discomfort. DOMS doesn’t go away any sooner when stretching.

  3. Avatar Jami says:

    I believe you ultimately have to find what your body needs and take into account the (hopefully professional) advice given and go from there. Stretching should be a part of any exercise, especially endurance exercise, because your body needs that flexibility i.e. runners, cyclists, etc. You don’t need to an hour of yoga after say a long run, but just some light stretching can go a long way.

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