Stretching: Should You Stretch? Would You Like To Feel And Perform Better?!

Hamstring stretch

By Marina Aagaard, MFE

Is it really necessary to stretch? Yes. Over time your muscles will shorten due to muscle action during exercise and every day activities.
That means, that the muscles become tighter and reduce your range of motion.

American College of Sports Medicine recommends, that you stretch two to three times a week, or more (ACSM, 2011).

Many people do not stretch, because they think stretching does not work. This notion is typically based on by articles with misinterpretations of research.
Many newspaper and magazine articles have had headlines and fact boxes with text, which can easily lead exercisers to believe, that stretching is irrelevant. This is not so.

The myths about stretching are also keeping quite a few from stretching. A.o. 1) no pain, no gain, 2) stretch a lot to make it work and 3) all major muscles should be stretched.

In reality, most people can have a positive effect by doing just a few, pleasant and short stretches. Because often it is not necessary to stretch all that much. Generally it is not a good thing to be too flexible; your body needs to be strong and stable.
However, strength is not of much use, if you lack mobility.
So a certain amount of stretching is recommended, e.g.:
2-3 times per week, 10-30 seconds per stretch, 2-4 repetitions.

Focus on the tight muscles, typically calves, hamstrings, hip flexors and chest muscles.

The method and duration of your stretch can vary, it all depends on your purpose and your health and fitness status.

There are many good reasons, purposes, for stretching:

Stretching

  • In warm-ups to prepare the muscles for load and end-ranges of motion, which may occur during the activity. For warm-ups: Active dynamic stretching is preferred.
  • In cool-downs for better recovery and injury prevention “Slow, controlled stretches makes it easier for muscle cells and tendons to keep even tension, which is of importance for local injury later on in a period” (Michalsik, Bangsbo, 2002).
    For (the end of) cool-downs passive static stretching is preferred.
  • Improve performance; improve muscle efficiency related to accelleration via greater stiffness; obtained by slow, even stretches (Boysen-Møller, 1998) and prevent tightness, so performance in sport and every day life over time is improved (indirectly).
  • Improve general mobility; the ability to use the optimal joint range of motion, ROM, so every day movements are easier.
  • Improve sports-specific mobility. The stretches should be selected specifically according to the demands of the sport and the health and fitness of the athlete.
  • Prevent injury. A great number of injuries cannot be prevented by stretching, but some can …
    Here and now: Prevent muscle strains: “There is evidence that pre-participation stretching reduces the incidence of muscle strains …” (McHugh MP, Cosgrave CH, 2010).
    Over time: Reduce difference between passive and active range of motion, so there is less of a risc of strains during sports activities.
  • Treatment of injury – professional treatment, e.g. physiotherapy (not on your own).
  • Improve health and wellness. Stretching facilitates mental and physical relaxation – with the right stretching – and can, together with breathing exercises, reduce stress and lower the blood pressure.
    Increased mobility can reduce the risk of tight muscles causing back problems.

Click on this link for an easy health and wellness stretching program (3 min.).

Use stretching sensibly for your purpose and needs and forget about the myths and misinformation about stretching.
Stretching works and is good for you, when you choose the right stretches and methods.
Enjoy your stretching!

References

Alter, MJA (1996). Science of Flexibility, 2nd Edition. Human Kinetics.Behm DG, Chaouachi A (2011). A review of the acute effects of static and dynamic stretching on performance. Eur J Appl Physiol.
Boysen-Møller F (1998). Stræk og udspænding – sådan er effekten. Puls. Garber et al., ACSM (2011). Quantity and Quality of Exercise for Developing and Maintaining Cardiorespiratory, Musculoskeletal, and Neuromotor Fitness in Apparently Healthy Adults: Guidance for Prescribing Exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. Vol 43. 1334-1359.
Holt LE, Pelham TW, Holt, J (2008). Flexibility: A Concise Guide To Conditioning, Performance Enhancement, Injury Prevention, and Rehabilitation. Humana Press.
McHugh MP, Cosgrave CH (2010). To stretch or not to stretch: the role of stretching in injury prevention and performance. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2010 Apr;20(2):169-81.
Michalsik L, Bangsbo J (2002). Aerob og anaerob træning. DIF.

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