It’s an often misunderstood and misinterpreted area of fitness, that I think needs greater understanding and clarification.
Should you stretch?
Why do you stretch?
When do you stretch?
What are the benefits?
What are the pitfalls?
I have read a number of media articles on this area but unfortunately they tend to be very selective on research areas and as with most research, quite conflicting!
Here’s some take home information & salient points, from what we know currently, and from what I understand;
* You don’t have to stretch prior to your main workout. I prefer and go through dynamic (moving) stretching with my clients, to prepare the body for the upcoming workout. i.e. go through movements you will be doing next.
* Do not do static stretching as part of the warm up. In fact it can be detrimental to your performance. It’s also suggested it might actually increase risk of injury.
* If you want to stretch at the end of a workout again it’s optional. There’s a suggestion that it doesn’t reduce soreness, however most of my clients like to stretch muscles worked or be stretched at the end.
* Consider your genetics and your individuality when stretching. Some people are hyper mobile (lax or exaggerated range) so it’s probably not a good idea to extend range further. Some people’s joint structures and posture are genetically ‘tighter’, or through repetitive daily actions, so they might benefit from some of the methods mentioned below.
* Consider that massage might be a better option to release tension and increase R.O.M. within certain muscles. Self massage using foam rollers, massage balls and pulse rollers can help here too.
* Think of your muscles as paired opposites as one group lengthens the other shortens, so even something like resistance training helps if you focus on full range of movement (R.O.M.)
* Focusing on mobilising might be better to increase range of movement. That is taking the joint through it’s optimal range. Think of joint structure and it’s required movement range.
* Think specificity – stretch what’s needed not just everything as a blanket approach. For instance, when you look at head neck posture, generally the frontal chest/shoulder muscles are shortened and the opposing neck upper back musculature are lengthened. So the rear muscles are generally in a lengthened state under tension. More lengthening and tension would not necessarily help here, however frontal stretching would!
* If you do want to stretch after working out, it’s generally suggested to do it repeated between 2-4 times of around and up to 30-60 seconds.
* Vibration plates and pulse rolling whilst stretching can give noticeably better ROM.
* It appears that stretching doesn’t primarily increase muscle length but more it increases tolerance to stretching and changing the levels of stretch receptors. (They allow more tension under a more lengthened state).
So it appears stretching might not have as much benefit as previously thought, but I would suggest, do what feels right and what you like to do!