He wants to start out by doing rather strenuous, even slightly painful, static stretches, mostly in the legs, followed by 10-20 minutes of cardio and then the rest of the workout is mostly lifting. We had a bit of an argument about this. He claims that warming up first is more likely to cause cramps. Everything I have read seems to contradict this. Is he wrong?

I don't know what to make of our differing opinions. This is his profession, it seems disrespectful to doubt his experience and training. He is obviously a skilled athlete himself. I don't want to be like an anti-vaxxer mom ignoring a doctor because she did some googling. But what if he just doesn't do his research properly and doesn't keep up to date on the science? What if he just blindly follows the advice of his mentors from years ago or relies on his own anecdotal evidence?

  • 1
    I don't think static stretching before lifting is such a good idea.
    – erictrigo
    Feb 3, 2016 at 11:23
  • Stretching without any warmup can't be a good idea.
    – son15
    Feb 3, 2016 at 11:51
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    This is kind of two questions: "Does stretching before warming up prevent cramps?" and "Should you cooperate with your trainer when he contradicts what you think you know?" I like the second question better. "Should I be worried", though, is not the kind of question with an answer others can benefit from.
    – Noumenon
    Feb 3, 2016 at 12:31

5 Answers 5


First off, ask your trainer how many athletes he or she has trained that have won national, regional, or international titles. Personally, my belief is that unless you have trained someone that's made the Olympic team (or around there), you should probably put your ego in check and emulate what the Olympic trainers are doing.

Training isn't an art project where there's a lot of room for individual expression. Different athletes respond in different ways, but most things are quite concrete and should only be changed when appropriate peer reviewed research indicates as such.

Further, if you look around a modern gym you'll see a lot of trainers doing ridiculous things with their clients. In my own observational experience, trainers are basically motivators and task masters, not people I would trust with exercise science before I observed them first. This the trainer's fault of course, but it's not made any easier by clients who don't really care about pushing boundaries and primarily just want the fore-mentioned "someone to tell me what to do in a gym because I hate going."

Static Stretching

Static stretching before exercise is not considered helpful:

The basic science literature supports the epidemiologic evidence that stretching before exercise does not reduce the risk of injury.

Additionally I'd reference Ivo Flipse's excellent answer from 2005. Stretching for performance is still being figured out, but there is certainly no credible evidence that static stretching before weight training is a good idea.

Cardio Beforehand

This one I actually think your trainer has right, or somewhat right. It is important to warmup, both your general body systems and the specific body components that you intend to lift with. There is still some squabbling over the benefits of stretching, but warmups are universally acknowledged to be critical to injury prevention, force production, and mental readiness.

20 minutes might be on the high side, but as a 40-ish year old man, I've adjusted my warmups from 3 minutes to 10, and remain relatively injury free. I actually need to "warmup" into my "warmups", if that makes sense, hitting the jump rope for a bit before I do getups before I do air squats, before I grab an empty barbell.

Dealing With Your Trainer

Your trainer is probably fine for a weekend warrior with no real physical ambitions, but I think you can quickly realize he or she isn't going to place anyone on an Olympic team any time soon. You'll also notice that you probably don't have a lot of high level athletes in your gym. These people train and work in difference circles.

Getting a good trainer is going to cost you, you'll need to switch gyms, and you'll need to travel. If you don't want any of that it's okay, but realize that much better training is out there: most people don't pursue it because it's just not enough of a priority.

Trainers who place two national level athletes qualify for USA Weightlifting's National Coach standard. You can search around for USA Weightlifting clubs by going here. Many of these clubs have turned into Crossfit boxes, which is a whole different topic. But if you live near a major metro area, with a phone and a day's time, you should be able to talk to someone who (unlike your trainer) is truly qualified to get you to the next level of fitness.

Just be blunt: ask them if they are USA Weightlifting licensed coaches, and ask if they are (or know any) National Coaches. I just googled around my own hometown of San Diego, and a resume like this is what you're looking for. Concrete results, proven history, and official licenses from strong organizations.

  • Reducing the risk of injury is more important for most people then copying what the Olympic team does. Feb 3, 2016 at 17:18
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    A huge component of a professional team is reducing injury. Whether it's safety, progress, gains, or technique, high level coaches know how to deal with it better than some trainer at 24 hour fitness.
    – Eric
    Feb 3, 2016 at 18:21
  • A warm up and some dynamic stretches to begin with. You can static stretch at the end of the work out. From a sports injury perspective a professional sports physio would get you to warm up for 5 minutes then dynamically stretch, workout and then static stretch at the end. You never work through actual pain. Feb 4, 2016 at 21:57

Static stretching very slightly decreases the chance of injury at a strong detriment to strength. Its not necessarily wrong but if you want to lift heavy may be wrong for you.

Cardio before lifting worries me though, as its likely that you will tire out many of your weakest muscles (much of your abdominals for example) before you even start lifting, causing you to fail at the lifting before you can reach the point of hypertrophy. I would advise performing cardio after lifting as the lifts will do the majority of the work and the cardio will essentially finish of the session, causing you to work yourself to the absolute highest point you can while remaining safe.

What he has set out for you will work, but is not necessarily the most efficient way of doing it. If you have no alternative trainer then it'll do fine, if you can find an alternative it may be worth a try.

At the end of the day, doing something is better than nothing. If its his way or nothing, then just play along and you'll still make significant strength and fitness gains.


Despite some answers naysaying stretching, it depends on what physicals activities you are going to do and -- what I read -- was consistency. The people who had fewest injuries were those who either regularly stretched before their workout -- OR -- regularly didn't stretch. Those that stretched inconsistently were the most like to achieve the "injured exerciser boobie prize".

It is also the case that stretching to lengthen muscles and increase range of motion, " happen best when your muscles are warm -- therapeutic temperature range for muscles is in the range 102-110°F. According to references in the book "Science of Flexibility" -- highly recommended if you are into studies, science, facts and details of stretching, on p.69 in my 2nd Ed.; w/3rd Ed. now avail: via Amazon):

"when stretching in that range, the amount of structural weakening produced by given amount of tissue elongation varies inversely with the temperature. This is apparently related to the progressive increase in the viscous flow properties of the collagen as it is heated." [It was also found that] "allowing the muscles to cool" [likely to just below 102°F-bottom of the therapeutic range] increases the long-term effects of the stretch. Elsewhere it lists "104°F as the point for a thermal transition in the microstructure of collagen occurs which significantly enhances the viscous stress relaxation of collagenous tissue, allowing greater plastic deformation when it is stretched."

Only time I ever, comfortably did a full Chinese, legs-out-to-sides-split (also "straddle-" or "side-splits"), was at a yogic dance celebration through music and yoga of "TriYoga". I had gotten much warmer than in any class with the dancing to live music (and maybe an ambient temp. of ~80F. However, both before and since that time, no matter how much time I spent at home or in classes, I was never quite able to get my muscles warm enough to comfortably roll from font-to-back w/legs straight out (sigh).

But again, as in whether you stretch (at all) and in how much, time of day and consistency of temperature when stretching correlate higher than almost any other factor in injury prevention (both during stretching and during later exercise practice).

Whether or not you need stretching depends on how often you will high, fast-reaction contractions on the muscles, i.e. more so w/high speed running, or various martial arts, less so with controlled weight lifting (though post-weight lifting stretching can be very desirable to lower strength or mass-building's tendency to lower flexibility due to higher muscle mass).

@Alex Hall:

He claims that warming up first is more likely to cause cramps. Everything I have read seems to contradict this. Is he wrong?

He is likely to be more correct for his own body because he is used to it. But low-impact warmups like fast walking, biking or even passive heating in a sauna or hot-tub would likely provide benefits -- with more benefits showing when you are cold (say coming indoors in winter), or morning training, when your body temperature is naturally, usually, at a daily low.

Despite my tendency to like stretching (as a centerpiece of a workout), I believe the statistics favor consistent warm-up and stretch activities before heavy exercise, more than doing good warming up and stretches on some or most days, but leaving it out on days when you are short on time.

It will be just those days when you are in a hurry and skip normal pre-workout "rituals", that you are likely to subject muscles and joints to abnormal strain and possible injury. One can easily see how mental attitude affects their body: straying attention and thinking about whatever is causing the "rushed-feeling" vs. focusing on good form and on how much intensity you are "throwing" at your body (that is, otherwise, accommodated to warm-ups and stretching).

Of course, if your workout-coach can't adapt to a workout style you can live and thrive with, they may not be the best coach for your specific body.



Recent research indicates that stretching might be more of a pre-workout magical ritual than an actually useful functional component. It was taught as the "correct" way for decades and most people never questioned it (then again, so was "a low fat diet makes you skinny"), so you're likely to still run into it with PE teachers and fitness trainers, i.e. people generally not especially well known for their scientific rigour or critical thinking skills. Don't be fooled by an aura of professionalism, most personal trainers function merely as an outside supply of discipline, and provide obsolete, long-debunked information. You can safely skip stretching.


  • 1
    Still, be careful, "recent research" should always be taken with a grain of salt, especially when they refute common belief. To keep with the OP's example, there is "recent research" stating that vaxines can safely be skipped... Just because it's research doesn't mean that it is valid. "might be" is a very correct way of stating it, but you draw quite a definitive conclusion from that. ;)
    – T. Verron
    Feb 3, 2016 at 15:24
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    No research worth the name says vacciness (sic) could be skipped. Nonetheless, let's say stretching is a matter of personal taste and there is no evidence you'll get killed to death and blow your muscles up if you skip it. Feb 3, 2016 at 16:33
  • Worth the name is the key sentence here, that's not something easy to judge, especially for someone who is not an expert in the field. A good factor to take into account is the "test of time", hence why I'd be extra careful with recent research. Long-debunked myths are a different story, for example. And I was making a general statement from a scientifical standpoint: as far as I can judge (I'm definitely not a fitness expert), while this article is indeed very recent, it does seem to be backed by a lot of older studies.
    – T. Verron
    Feb 3, 2016 at 16:48

I posted this as a comment to Eric's answer which is pretty much on the point but to add a bit more specifically to answer your points.

A warm up and some dynamic stretches to begin with. You can static stretch at the end of the work out.

From a sports injury perspective a professional sports physio would get you to warm up for 5 minutes then dynamically stretch, workout and then static stretch at the end.

You never work through actual pain.

Simple answer get a different trainer.

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