Chances are if you’ve taken part in any sport, activity, or P.E class, you’ve given stretching a try. Today’s blog is a piece aimed at reviewing stretching and what science is saying these days. First off, let’s run over the two main types of stretching. Static stretching, which is probably the most familiar type, involves bringing a tissue to the end of its range and holding it there for an extended period of time. Dynamic stretching on the other hand involves moving the tissue from a neutral position to end range in a smooth controlled manner. Now that we know what we’re talking about, let’s look at the reasons people give for stretching, and whether there’s any science behind them.
People stretch for a variety of different reasons; to help with post-exercise muscle soreness, to increase flexibility and range of motion, or to improve performance as part of a warm-up. Some of these reasons are founded in science, whereas some have been passed down from coach to coach and friend to friend without any thought as to whether you’re getting what you want out of it. Firstly, if you’re stretching to try and prevent muscle soreness, you may be better off saving some time and doing something else. A review of the literature states that based on a variety of studies looking at a variety of body parts, stretching before or after exercise makes no significant difference in post – exercise muscle soreness. On the other hand, if you’re stretching to improve your range of motion, you’re on the right track. Both static and dynamic stretches have been shown to improve range of motion at a variety of different joints in both the short term after a single stretch, and long term after a period of regular stretching (here, here, and here). Lastly, if you’re stretching to help improve your performance as part of a warm-up, you should make sure you’re picking the right type of stretch. Static stretching held for the recommended time has been found in multiple studies to impair performance (power, agility, balance) immediately after the stretch, whereas dynamic stretching seems to have the same benefits without the decrements. So if you’re waiting behind the start line at your next race, or going out for a Sunday ride, make sure to keep your warm-up dynamic and sport specific.
On the whole then, stretching has been shown to improve range of motion, but probably won’t help you with your muscle soreness and may even impair your performance as part of a warm-up if you’re performing static stretching specifically. Hopefully this helped clear up some reasons as to why you should and shouldn’t stretch, but if you do have any questions about stretching feel free to stop by the clinic or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org