SCIENCE TALK: stretching or not?

Most of us do some stretching regularly, or at least when they feel muscle soreness. Is it really necessary, or benefit at all?

Common reason why people stretch:

  1. decrease muscle soreness and pain
  2. injury prevention
  3. get more flexibility

Stretching types

There are several different stretching types, where static stretching is maybe one of the most common for people. Actually, CR and static stretching don’t make any difference for the outcome. Whereas static stretching is most familiar for people, it actually doesn’t prevent injury or muscle soreness. It can more harmful than good.

The best way is to mix all the styles together. Except for technique which requires partner, unless you don’t have access to someone who can perform they with correct technique.

Beneficial or not?

Many people try to prevent post-exercise soreness by stretching, but that soreness is actually due by DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) and stretching has nothing to do with it. Also, let’s consider that you feel soreness or pain in your neck and you have an office job, where you stare computer screen 8 hours a day, on your free time you stare your phone screen. You head is around 10 hours a day shifted forward, shoulders are turned to the front and lifted to ears. No wonder you feel pain, and want to stretch. In reality, you probably have weak support muscles, which can’t hold up good posture. When you find yourself that bad posture, your muscles are already stretched out and they feel pain because of it. So, stretching them more doesn’t take away the problem, what does is strength training.

stretching and warm-up

Stretching is not the same thing as a warm-up. Some people like to include stretching their warm-up, but studies have shown that there are not different between non-stretching and stretching group. So, it does not have benefits for performance, but it can have an impact on mindset, as some athlete might feel they are more ready to play after stretching.

But it feels good

Most of the people like to stretch as it feels good. That might be due by endorphins, but every moment release endorphins, so there is no clear explanation of why stretching feels good. If that’s the reason why you want to do it, go ahead.

What stretching does and should you stretch?

Stretching increase flexibility, that’s for sure. Depending on the sports we need some range of movement. As a runner or triathlete, you don’t need to be as flexible as gymnastics.

If you want to increase flexibility or stretching feels good do it. Also if you are training hard all the time and don’t be familiar with any mobility exercises, stretch, as it’s good to return muscle it’s resting length sometimes.

Don’t overdo it. As mentioned before, stretching can increase injury risk. There is no right way to do it or correct stretching time. Too many things affect the results, like sports, person, stretching types, length, timing, etc. Also what is wanted long time effect or short time effect.

I would recommend to post-exercise stretching. Don’t perform the only statistic, add movement to it, more like dynamic stretching. Don’t spend to much time in one stretch. Unless you don’t want to increase flexibility noticeably.

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Shrier I. Stretching before exercise does not reduce the risk of local muscle injury: a critical review of the clinical and basic science literature. Clin J Sport Med. 1999;9

Herbert RD, Gabriel M. Effects of stretching before and after exercising on muscle soreness and risk of injury: systematic review. BMJ. 2002 Aug;325(7362):468.

Pope RP, Herbert RD, Kirwan JD, et al. A randomized trial of preexercise stretching for prevention of lower-limb injury. Medicine Science in Sports Exercise. 2000 Feb;32(2):271–7

Kay AD, Blazevich AJ. Effect of Acute Static Stretch on Maximal Muscle Performance: A Systematic Review. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011 Jun 8

Pereles D, Roth A, Thompson DJ. A Large, Randomized, Prospective Study of the Impact of a Pre-Run Stretch on the Risk of Injury in Teenage and Older Runners. 2011 Jun 15

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