Age-old exercise wisdom has always included stretching as part of the pre and post activity discipline. We've believed that a good stretch will help reduce injury, aid recovery from the stresses of exercise and even improve our performance during the event.
While some exercise specialists still hold these physiological benefits of stretching to be true the efficacy of such effects are being challenged by others.
Earlier this year Lorraine posted an article titled Important Tips For Stretching Properly
Some key points from the article:
Stretching and warming up is not the same thing. If you attempt to stretch a cold muscle you are placing yourself at a higher risk of injury.
Full body, compound movements are best for stretching all the major muscles in the shortest time.
Avoid pain! It is not necessary and advised against stretching a muscle to the point of uncomfortable pain.
Stretch every day, even on non workout days.
Recent Sports Psychologist graduate Juliano Pereira published his findings on this very topic over at the-sport-in-mind blog. I'll summarise his views here.
Research points to the fact that stretching does not significantly reduce the risk of injury but rather performs the task of making muscles more flexible. Interestingly, increased muscle flexibility is not linked with increases in strength or any mechanism that prevents muscle failure. The key function for preventing injury is in fact warming up which does not necessarily relate to stretching.
Recovering from muscle strain/ stress
Again, several studies indicate that stretching pre and post activity does not have any significant effect on muscle recovery or reducing soreness. Benefits are more aligned with 'feeling' better - more psychological in nature, of which there are no detailed studies proving such benefits.
Regardless of the research or lack of, if stretching improves the psychological response in athletes which encourages compliance to the regime - then the benefits are relative. More research is needed to clarify cause and effect.
Of all the possible pre-exercise routines adopted by athletes to prepare them for their activity stretching is one that might be best to leave out.
Stretching pre activity, static stretching specifically, is believed to negatively impact on performance on tasks requiring balance, reaction time and maximum force. Conversely, dynamic stretching (fluid movement without holding any one position) has been shown to improve performance for the same tasks.
It seems static stretching will not add any benefits to your pre-exercise routine and in some cases may even be counterproductive.
The best way to prepare for activity is to warm up the muscles by moving the body through a dynamic series of movements. These pre-exercise movements can be designed specifically for the intended sport or activity and help prepare the mind and body for the main activity.
Referenced article: Stretching: When is it effective?
Until next week, take care. Simon.
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