There seems to be a lot of confusion about the value – or lack thereof – of muscle stretching to speed up recovery after exercise. “Stretching knocks out your lactic acid,” and other similar claims abound. Is it true?
First, it’s important to understand the difference between stretching for recovery and stretching for remodeling.
During exercise, the muscles are called upon to work. During this work, fuel is consumed, waste products are created, and muscle fiber structure is disrupted by multiple micro tears. Imagine a banquet, for comparison, where food is eaten, garbage is piled up (napkins, chicken bones, etc.) and cutlery is disturbed. Before the next banquet, the food must be replenished, the rubbish cleaned up and the tables set back.
For muscles, this process of resetting for the next event is called recovery. The muscle is brought back to full function painless.
It is not the process that leads to body change per se, but it is important for athletes who wish to compete at their highest level multiple times over a short period of time.
Athletes have tried many things to speed up recovery: cryotherapy, massage, compression, immersion in ice water, stretching, hyperbaric oxygenanti-inflammatories and electromyostimulation, just to name a few. These interventions aim to decrease lactic acid, inflammatory markers and other molecules that accumulate after intense exercise.
Of these, only massage is always effective. Many studies have shown that stretching does not significantly help waste removal or serve in any capacity to accelerate muscle recovery.
Most of us don’t train for professional competitions, but exercise to be healthy, lose weight and improve our mood.
For this we must focus on our body remodeling response to exercise, which is not the same as post-exercise recovery.
Put simply, when we train regularly, our body adapts to this stressor by altering our muscle structure, metabolism, and physiology. It is this change, this remodeling, that leads to all the positive benefits of exercise. To stay with our banquet example, if we realized that 500 people are going to show up for each event, but we currently only have 10 tables set, we would change our capacity to be ready for the next event. We would increase the efficiency of the kitchen and put more tables. Likewise, our bodies are remodeling to adapt to increased exercise.
Many studies have also been conducted to determine how to optimize the body’s remodeling response to exercise. After More than 35 years of studiessix variables appear to consistently aid the body in its efforts to reorganize itself in response to exercise: timing of nutrient intake (particularly protein), type of exercise, massage, sleep, creatine at low dose and – you guessed it – stretching.
Perhaps the most well-known and accepted benefits of muscle stretching exercises are improving or maintaining range of motion, or both; alignment of bones and joints; and strengthening of connective tissues – all elements that optimize performance. Many studies have shown that flexibility training (dedicated attention over time to muscle stretching as part of an exercise program) directly improves muscle function, and ultrasound images have documented favorable alterations in muscle architecture after weeks of regular stretching, such as longer fibers. Moreover, a recent study has clearly shown that elongation over time, improves blood flow to muscles during subsequent exercise in animals.
Previous negative comment around muscle stretching can be misleading to the casual observer. It is true that studies have shown that static stretching routines (reach, hold for 30 seconds, release, stretch then) before a workout or competition results in decreased strength during that event, and that stretching before the activity does not prevent injuries, as it used to. long thought. But these are very specific circumstances that don’t apply to most people.
So do I stretch or not?
If you’re an elite athlete trying to reduce injury, increase strength, or speed muscle recovery right before your next event, then no.
If you’re most people who exercise to lose weight, feel good, and improve your mood – then yes. It will help with muscle remodeling, strengthening connective tissue, improving range of motion, joint alignment, and potentially blood circulation during subsequent exercise – all beneficial long-term effects.