Stretching, the Truth

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To stretch or not to stretch… that is the question. And the simple answer is yes, but only after your workout. Here’s why. – BY SEAN FALCONER

In spite of regular articles on the topic, which say that stretching before a workout is not good for you, go to any race, track, gym or local meeting point for runners and chances are very, very good that you’ll see at least one athlete leaning into a prolonged static stretch, usually in the belief that stretching as part of a warm-up process will help the muscles become fully active and decrease the risk of injury, prevent muscle soreness and improve performance. But the science behind it says differently.

A 2012 study done in Croatia found that static stretching actually reduces muscle strength by an average of 5.5%, while a more recent study in Australia concluded that pre-exercise stretching did not prevent soreness, nor did it prevent overuse injuries. Then there is the study that found that it takes muscles about 10 minutes to recover the strength lost due to five minutes of static stretching, and another that found that runners who did not stretch before a race actually ran faster than those who did stretch.

When to stretch?
So does this mean you should never stretch? The answer to that one is no, but you need to know when to stretch. Before exercise, you need to warm up your muscles so that they are ready for the hard work about to come. Now think logically: Will holding a static stretch for a few seconds prepare your legs for hard running? No, of course not, whereas dynamic movements such as leg swings, light jogging and bounding will get them ready for the coming run – and that is what helps prevent injury when you start running.

Keep in mind that the latest research confirms that stretching is still good for you: It increases your range of motion in the muscles and joints, while also improving joint function and balance. But it’s all in the timing. Stretching before a workout will just leave your muscles a wee bit tired before you even start working them, thus actually increasing the risk of injury, whereas stretching after a workout will do your muscles good, and help them return to a position of rest.

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