What’s up with stretching is it good or bad for you? This is a long standing debate which is fueled by the lack of conclusive research. It is difficult to study stretching because there is no analysis available that meet the criteria of both randomized and blind studies.
If you look at stretching as a means of maintaining flexibility then it is necessary. Flexibility is one of the 3 components of exercise as stated by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). But the ACSM also issued new guidelines in which they “specifically advised against static stretching before workouts or competitions.” Static stretching is holding a steady stretch for an extended period of time (usually about 1 minute) without release.
The definition of stretching is: a form of exercise in which a specific muscle, tendon, or muscle group, is deliberately flexed or stretched in order to improve the muscles’ elasticity and achieve comfortable muscle tone. Stretching increases flexibility which is the ability to move your joints through a full range of motion.
Numerous studies have been performed by reputable institutions and individuals which identify reasons not to stretch. Here is a summary of their research findings:
•Static stretching may reduce strength in the muscles being stretched. According to the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, their research concluded that “detrimental effects of static stretching are mainly limited to longer duration stretches such as 1 minute or longer”. This information supports the idea that static stretching for less than a minute has “no detrimental effect.”
•Stretching loosens muscles and the connecting tendons; however this practice can make it harder for muscles to accumulate energy and inhibits explosive actions, actually decreasing muscle strength. For example a power weight lifter should not stretch before making his lift as it may decrease the explosive power needed. Some weight lifters have reported stretching before lifting makes them feel weak and shaky. This conclusion applies to all sports and competitions in which quick bursts of energy are needed.
•Recent studies are unable to support that stretching reduces the risk of injury. Nor does it have an impact on muscle soreness after exercise.
Now let’s look at why stretching is good for you:
•Stretching is needed to improving flexibility which in turn increases range of motion.
•Stretching increases blood flow to muscles, which helps avoid the risk of injuries.
•Stretching works with your core muscles to improve your posture.
•Stretching relieves the lower body pain associated with sitting for long periods of time.
•There are locations on your body that require gentle stretching and because of the difficulty in reaching them they can stiffen. An example is the thoracic spine which is the middle of the back. It can become tight and expand into tight shoulders, neck and chest.
•Muscles can become tight through everyday use. Stretching can ease muscle tightness and bring the body back into balance.
•Stretching at the end of your workout can be a good cool-down. Once the muscles are warmed up from your workout they are more pliable and not likely to strain or pull.
Stretching safety tips:
•Stretching is not the best warm-up. Cold muscles are tight and there is a risk of a pull or strain. If you want to stretch as part of your warm-up then do some short cardio first. Take an easy ride on the stationary bike or a short walk or jog before stretching.
•Repetitive motion can create areas of tightness in the body. Proceed with caution when stretching the area because if it is especially tight it is at risk for injury, especially if you push too far. Stretching is excellent for getting these tight muscles to relax and requires easing gently into the stretch and holding it lightly.
•Always stay in balance, so if you stretch on one side of the body be sure to do the same on the other side.
•Stretching correctly is absolutely necessary. You want to feel some pressure but not pain. Pain is a signal that you’re pushing too hard and you need to back off. Don’t bounce; for example as you reach out over your legs for a seated forward stretch, ease slowly into it and don’t bounce up and down forcing yourself further into it. Bouncing can cause muscles to tear, pull or strain.
The Mayo Clinic states “Although studies about the benefits of stretching are mixed, stretching does improve your flexibility, which in turn may improve your athletic performance and decrease your risk of injury.”
Stretching should not be ruled out as a valuable part of a complete exercise routine. Focus on your movements and make sure you follow the stretching safety tips.
Remember always contact your doctor before starting or changing any new exercise. Be healthy, be happy!