This spring, I ran across a story in the Tallahassee Democrat claiming pre-match stretching does not improve flexibility for tennis players. Then, just the other day, I learned about researchers in UNLV’s kinesiology department who say they’ve discovered that certain stretching may actually reduce athletic performance by decreasing leg power.

The UNLV findings, which were published in the September 2008 issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, investigated how two typical stretching techniques–one for the hamstrings and another for the quadriceps muscles in the legs–affected measures of strength and power in a group of male and female athletes. In short, researchers found no real benefit to stretching before exercising, and went so far as to report some stretching may actually lead to reduced levels of power (when doing seated knee flexes, for example).

These findings, as interpreted and reported by the popular media, have the potential to make everyone — especially those of us who need to stretch the most before exercise — rethink our entire approach to pre-exercise stretching (which in my opinion would be a dangerous thing to do).

From my perspective, it should be clear that pre-exercise stretching is an integral part of long-term heath and fitness, and is essential to the rhythm you hope to experience and enjoy while exercising. For example:

In 1999, one of my clients, three-time Ironman Triathlon World Champion Peter Reid, was set to defend his 1998 Ironman Championship when in training something happened that caused Peter to lose his rhythm. By race-time, Peter was hurting, yet still managed to finish in second place. Peter was in great shape, but the deciding factor for his less then peak performance was a small tight gluteus muscle. Because of the tightness, Peter’s hip was unable to drop away from his ribs. This prevented the relaxed side-to-side movement you see in all great runners. A normal glut stretch cannot get to this powerful muscle. Therefore, a variation that goes right to the spot has to be used. In Peter’s case, a series of pre- and post exercise stretches caused the muscle to loosen, and with his rhythm, Peter finished 1st at the 2000 Ironman Triathlon World Champions.

I can provide example upon example of why pre-exercise stretching is must for all athletes, not just the Peter Reid’s of the world. To the researchers at UNLV, see if your own athletic department agrees with your findings, and then let me know how this year’s Running Rebels basketball squads do without any pre-game stretching.