Hello and welcome to this week’s blog, Why Stretch? Thank you for stopping by and taking time to read it. This week I discuss stretching, its pros and cons, the thoughts about it by the fitness and sports massage communities, and whether you should be doing it or not.
You have probably heard from some influential people around you, and on the good old internet, that stretching is a load of cobblers, and not worth doing whatsoever. You will have heard from at least one sports person, casual or serious, that they never stretch, and look at them, they are fine!
But does it not leave you with questions? How come some people swear by it and others never do it? How come there are whole businesses dedicated to stretching? Have you found any definitive answers?
I will look at the reasons for both stances being taken by anyone who moves, whether it is daily movement or sports movement, and see if you can come up with your own opinion on stretching, and then I will tell you my own thoughts and feelings about stretching.
The Case Against Stretching
The biggest problem with the debate around stretching, is that the scientists and researchers keep changing their opinions about it. Sometimes in the past they have unequivocally said it is great to do, and then a few scant years later, they say that it could impede your athletic performance.
For a while there it was advocated to stretch before exercise, then no no no, only stretch after exercise.
It has been felt, by people in the top of their fields, that stretching is not beneficial and that the discussion is over. However, if you look at any Personal Training programme today, flexibility is one of the main pillars of gauging overall fitness. Flexibility, however, does not protect you from injury. So why try to be more flexible? It is thought that for runners, that having that extra spring from slightly tight muscles, can help improve your performance. And in some sports, being too flexible could the cause of more injury.
Previous studies have had generic stretching assigned to all participants, regardless of their current states of flexibility or sports demands on their bodies. Surely that would produce inaccurate results and make its conclusions unworthy of consideration.
There is proof, however, that holding a stretch for a minute before exercise can decrease performance of strength and speed for up to one hour. This is perhaps down to the neuro signalling occurring between the brain and the muscle, and what is expected from it.
Overall, it is the impact of stretching upon the general population that is negligible, which makes the case against stretching alone.
The Case For Stretching
Don’t you think that if stretching was completely useless, that we, as humans, would have had that figured out long ago and given it up altogether?
Think about it, think about all the millions of followers of yoga, calisthenics, and other stretching programmes, can they all really be that wrong?
The most important distinction to make between stretching for stretching sake, is not that we are trying to change the length of the muscle we are stretching, but rather we are trying to maintain, or increase, the range of movement in the joint effected by the muscle.
Having a good range of movement in each of your joints, allows you to move freely and can increase your athletic performance.
Dr. Jay Hertel, professor of sports medicine at the University of Virginia, explains stretching.
“That act (stretching) should maximize the joint’s range of motion, which is a good thing.”
He also says, “The greater range of motion you have, the more likely you’ll be able to generate more force, which may make you run faster or jump higher.”
When you are flexible in your joints, you are also less likely to be injured in real life. Athletes have different considerations to make on their bodies.
What About Stretching as Part of Recovery?
Stretching is a low-impact way to get muscles moving without putting a lot of stress and pressure on them. Therefore, it is often used as a tool in the recovery process after an injury, and why you will have discussions about stretching with me after your sports massage.
When muscles are not used during a recovery process, there is a risk of atrophy occurring, which is muscle wastage. If this occurs it can be a longer road to recovery and normal activity.
Muscle strength is the ultimate goal for overall health, increasing speed of recovery from trauma, accidents, and operations.
Stretching can help muscles maintain strength, as well as become stronger. Stretching a muscle places it under pressure, and it is this repeated pressure that builds up strength over time. A stronger muscle is less likely to injure.
Different Types of Stretching
It is important to know the differences between stretch types and why you would use them.
- ballistic stretching is to use bouncing movements to increase your range of movement.
- dynamic stretching, is like calisthenics, taking your muscles through all their normal range of movement.
- active stretching is when you assume a stretch and then hold it there with no other assistance.
- passive (or relaxed) stretching, is when you hold a stretch for a set amount of time, sometimes increasing the stretch with outside assistance.
- static stretching is like passive stretching, but you actively involve other muscles in the stretch.
- isometric stretching is static stretching by tensing the muscle being stretched.
- PNF stretching, Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation, is when your muscle has an outside force applied while you resist, and then when your muscle relaxes it can be stretched further than before the stretch.
To Stretch or Not to Stretch… That is the Question
You have read both sides now, what do you think?
Personally, I am an advocate of stretching when needed.
- If it feels good… do it.
- If you are recovering from an injury… do it.
- If you need to be stronger and strength training really is not your thing… do it.
- If your muscles contract, cramp, or tighten in response to poor body position or stress and stretching them helps the blood flow back into them and you feel better… do it.
In a nutshell, if you are a professional athlete and you are injury free… you might not need to stretch at all. But then each sport is different. Gymnast? Stretch. Sprinter? Probably not. Ultimately, one athlete is very different to the next, just like you are different to the person next to you. You know your body best, and you can decide what it needs and what feels good.
As your Sports Massage Therapist, I will advocate stretching in the right situations, even if it does not float your boat. That’s ok, I will not be upset with you, but there may be certain situations which it will help you, so take my professional advice on board and see it if helps.
Thank you for taking time to read my blog today, and I welcome your opinions and lively discussions on the couch about the relative benefits of stretching. For more information please Get In Touch.
See you soon,