31 Jan Benefits of Stretching?
To stretch or not to stretch?
‘It’s good to stretch’ at some stage you have either been told this or told someone else (I know I have many times!). Probably all of us in life at some point have tried a few stretches be that as a warm up, part of a yoga class, to relieve tension or perhaps just to feel good. So what are the actual benefits and what does stretching do?
Let’s have a look…
Not entirely true:
Stretch to warm up – you may have seen or been someone who just before going for a run, raises one foot onto a bench or fence and tries to touch their toes or swings their hip to one side and their arm over to the other side and holds that position. For a long time the idea was that this helped warm up the muscles and prepared them for the exercise. So far, studies have shown that static stretching (holding a muscles in a position of tension) plays no benefit in a warm up routine prior to exercise. They can actually reduce muscles explosive force.
Stretch To prevent injury – Again, if you think you get injured because you didn’t properly stretch you might want to reconsider. Common injuries such as ligament sprains and knee damage will have very little to do with muscle length. There is an argument that they might play a part in preventing muscular strains but more evidence is needed.
Stretch to relieve pain and tension – this should not always be the automatic option for everyone, there are cases when stretching may actually do harm than good. Stretching someone who is already hypermobile or has Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome plays no benefit. In fact, in these cases strengthening exercises are usually better. Then there are people with shortened (not tight) muscles. A short muscle even when relaxed will not lengthen whilst a tight muscle once relaxed will.
What it does do:
Stretching increases flexibility – This is true, ask any gymnast or dancer. Any type of stretching can actually lengthen tight muscles. A good question to always ask yourself though is ‘what am I trying to achieve by being flexible?’
Stretching stimulate nerve and blood vessels as well as the muscles – whilst this is the case the benefits are not yet fully understood, but the neurological element does play a role in muscular tension. Where the eastern world refers to flow of energy perhaps this is where the western world would refer to vascular and neurological stimulation.
Stretching can feel good – This is true and for the most part can be pretty harmless provided you are not holding the stretch too long or too intense. The physiological science behind why this still needs to be studied. The eastern world with centuries old practices such as Tai chi, Qigong and Yoga can attest to power of stretching as the west catches up with these practices so to will the science.
What else can YOU do?
The point of article isn’t to condemn stretching or promote it but simply to highlight what we currently know about it. For all the studies suggesting there isn’t much benefit, there are plenty of yoga etc. students, athletes and performers who swear by stretching. It may simply be a case of the science catching up with the belief.
Until that time, what you can do before any exercise activity is to include stretching with a milder version of the activity you about to do as this will be the most effective way to prepare (so if going for a run start with a light run perhaps just a lap of street at a low pace then gradually build up from there).
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