If anyone starts doing any research on stretching it soon becomes clear that that there are different opinions on whether you should or should not stretch. It has become a very controversial topic amongst the exercise and health community. This being said, research is done on a continual basis for this exact reason, as new information is found every day. We used to be taught in gym class at school that you need to stretch before and after all exercise, but it’s now seen that this is no longer the case. So let’s try to understand what’s going on?
To stretch or not to stretch?
Stretching was seen as a way to increase the length of a muscle and increase the mobility of a joint. It was said that if you were very flexible, that your muscles and joints were healthy and that you were going to be injury free. However, findings now show that you can 1. Over stretch, and 2. Over lengthening a muscle will lead to injuries as this can cause a muscle imbalance in your body.
Static vs Dynamic Stretching
Static stretching is holding a movement and lengthening a muscle for a period of time without movement. One would hold this stretch and experience a mild discomfort in the muscle. It is said to elongate the muscle and help it to relax. Dynamic stretching is moving a muscle in and out of a stretched position with pace. Your body has more movement while performing the stretch. Static stretching helps to improve the flexibility of that specific muscle in that specific movement, whereas dynamic stretching may stretch more than one muscle at a time in a more functional movement, which may be more appropriate if you are intending on taking part in an activity. Static stretching can also reduce any blood flow to a muscle as it results in the muscle relaxing, which is not what you want to happen if you are about to embark on any form of exercise. It can also force a muscle to stretch beyond its natural range of motion, this can lead to an imbalance in your muscle length and strength and ultimately an injury. Dynamic stretching helps to increase blood flow to an area because you are performing it through a movement and using your body weight to perform this movement. It is better in getting your body ready for action and only stretches your muscle within its natural range of movement.
What’s the Alternative?
Because we are wanting to create a better range, increase mobility and reduce risk of injury, yet stay strong and maintain the correct muscle balance, I would recommend using a foam roller. Often your muscles are locked in a fixed position and the fascia connected to the muscle is the cause of this. Your muscle needs to maintain its strength for optimal movement. By using a foam roller you are able to help break up any built up adhesions of the fascia, without lengthening and weakening the muscle, and still prepare the muscle for action because there will be an increase of blood flow to that area.
If you want to stretch
Some people love the relaxing feeling that stretching gives them. There are certain activities that require flexibility such as Pilates and Yoga. If you feel that you need to stretch, make sure you apply a few rules to your routine.
- Don’t stretch when you are cold: Your muscles need to be warm before they are forced into a lengthened position. Warm muscles are already more flexible.
- Don’t bounce: This can increase the risk of tearing the muscle if done with too much force.
- You should only feel a mild discomfort: You should never stretch to the point of pain.
- Breathe: Make sure you are relaxed and taking deep breaths. This helps you and the muscles relax and reducing the tension in the muscles.
Whether you love to stretch, or it’s something you couldn’t be bothered to do, it’s good to know the benefits and downfalls of the action. Stretching does have its place in life. We need it for our everyday activities. If daily actions such as getting up and down off the floor become a hard movement, you know it’s time to get those joints more mobile.