Many people consider stretching to be an essential part of any exercise or training program. It helps us increase our flexibility and range of motion. Many of us also stretch to relax before we exercise and to help with recovery when we’re done.
Although stretching has long been a mainstay of nearly every workout routine, does it have as much of an effect on performance and recovery as we think?
The reason we feel more flexible after stretching is due to an increase in the level of discomfort we are able to withstand at the extremes of our range of motion. This is known as stretch tolerance.
It has long been considered that static stretching – hold a limb at the limit of his range of motion, usually up to a minute – was a requirement for any decent warm-up. It was thought that pushing this range of motion would be temporarily increase flexibilitytheoretically helping to prevent injury and improve performance during exercise.
Towards the end of the last century, however, evidence has emerged that static stretching might actually have negative effects on strength, power and speed. It is widely accepted that static stretching should be avoided when warming up.
Instead, dynamic stretches have become more popular during warm-ups. Dynamic stretching deliberately involves move a limb repeatedly in its full range of motion.
Dynamic stretching does not hinder performance like static stretching does. In fact, he can even increase muscle strength while providing the short-term increases in flexibility offered by static stretching. Before doing any type of exercise, some dynamic stretching is recommended.
It should be noted that static stretching always does increase range of motion. And any negative side effects can even be avoided if done correctly. But static stretching of a single muscle group during more than 90 seconds greatly increases the likelihood of performance degradation. All static stretching done before a workout should be brief.
the the opposite seems true for dynamic stretching. It appears that performing dynamic stretches for less than 90 seconds is much less likely to improve flexibility and performance than longer bouts. When performing dynamic stretches, pay attention to each muscle group and take your time.
Many people also like to stretch after exercise, usually for the purpose of reduce muscle soreness and risk of injury.
Delayed onset muscle pain is common and usually follows an exercise that you are not used to or that is particularly difficult. The sensation of soreness is usually intensified when the muscle in question is lengthened. This tells us that the “stretch sensors” built into the muscles – called muscle spindles – are involved in the production of this characteristic painful sensation. Nerve pathways related to muscle spindles are closely related to pain neural pathways. This response may have evolved to give muscles time to recover.
Stretching to prevent soreness has long been advocated. But evidence suggests that stretching just before and/or just after exercise actually has no effect on muscle pain over the following days. So stretching to try and avoid the inevitable painful follow-up to a hard workout will definitely get you nowhere. There is also currently no convincing evidence that stretching can help reduce injuries in activities where injury rates are high.
Beyond static and dynamic stretching, other techniques have grown in popularity in recent years.
Ballistic stretching is similar to dynamic stretching, but incorporates rebounding movements to push the range of motion to its extreme limits. Another type of stretch, called proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, or PNF, involves repeated contraction and relaxation of the target muscles in order to allow them to stretch. Many believe that PNF allows for a greater range of motion, but this effect does not lasts about five seconds after the end of the stretch.
All of these stretching methods will increase flexibility, but based on current evidence, static stretching is even more effective than PNF or ballistic stretching to improve range of motion, and may even be slightly better than dynamic stretching.
But there really is no need to over complicate your stretching routine. Work large muscle groups in their ranges of motion and time things wisely so your stretches don’t interfere with the rest of your exercise. While stretching by itself is unlikely to have much of an impact on your training or recovery, a little stretching during your warm-up can help gradually prepare your body for exercise.
That being said, stretching to improve flexibility still offers many health benefitsincluding improved circulation and reduced blood pressure. Audience guidelines recommend do flexibility exercises two or three times a week, incorporating static and dynamic stretching.
If hammering out these stretches immediately after a workout is the most convenient time to incorporate your flexibility training, it certainly won’t hurt you. And if you’re worried about injury, your best bet is to focus on a thorough warm-up, which can also include a healthy dose of dynamic stretching.