We’ve all been told at least once in our lives that we need to stretch before we exercise or we’ll pull a muscle. Is that true? Does stretching prevent injury or does it increase flexibility?
Here are some perspectives to consider the next time you stretch before and after a workout and ways you can reap the most benefits:
DOES IT PREVENT INJURY?
There isn’t enough evidence to prove that stretching serves to prevent injury during a workout. It was believed that the more pliable, or compliant a muscle is, the more likely it will perform well.
This can be explained by a study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine by describing the process a muscle goes through when you stretch. The goal is a compliant muscle, which is one that stretches easily. Viscoelasticity in a muscle is the way it reverts back to its original length after being stretched. If a muscle is elastic, it will return to its original length and the viscosity of the muscle determines how fast that or slow that happens.
A muscle needs enough force in order to complete a task. When it fails to produce necessary force, injury happens. So it’s not because a muscle isn’t able to stretch enough, it’s that it is not strong enough or wasn’t fired at the right time.
A muscle needs to be prepared and ready. So how do we do that?
DYNAMIC VS STATIC STRETCHING
There are two types of stretching you can use: dynamic and static.The difference between the two is that one requires movement, and the other doesn’t.
When you stretch and hold a muscle in an end position, you’re performing a static stretch. It’s the most common way we stretch and probably what you’ve been doing since grade school P.E. class. It was thought that this type of stretch promoted flexibility over time and also provided instant injury protection.
Dynamic stretching allows you to mimic movements that your body will be using in the workout. You can prepare your muscles for what it’s about to experience. Wouldn’t that kind of preparation be nice for everything in life? As you move, you increase your heart rate and the blood flow to your muscles. This gets them ready to move and fire when you tell them to.
SO WHICH IS BETTER?
Nowadays studies say that static stretching can actually decrease the strength of a muscle. So if you’re a weightlifter, you’re actually starting your training at a disadvantage.
If your goal is to be more pliable and flexibility is part of your work out like a gymnast, you can benefit from the elasticity of a muscle. But the effect only lasts as long as 30 minutes with the muscle returning back to its original form. There are studies that say you can become more flexible over time but that has more to do with genetics.
So is dynamic stretching a better alternative? Even though newer studies don’t provide enough evidence to prove that dynamic stretching or any stretching for that matter are good for you, they have stated that movement while stretching is the best option.
DON’T SKIP THE WARM UP
The takeaway is that you can stretch if you want to or don’t if you’re not into it. You just need to get moving with some light cardio or dynamic stretching if you like. A warm up to increase your heart rate and get your blood flowing and oxygenated is necessary to prevent injury and perform at your best.
The reason we ever stretch at the end of a work out is to produce the opposite effect of the warm up—to cool down. We need to decrease the heart rate and get your mind and body to return to a resting state. Slow cardio or static stretching can accomplish this though.
All in all, it’s preference so choose what makes you happy.