To Stretch or Not to Stretch - that is the question??

I’m sure if you’re reading his blog you’ll want to know the answer to this question. It’s something I’m asked in the Physio & Sports Injury Clinic on a daily basis. Therefore I’ve written this blog to hopefully try & give you my thoughts on ‘stretching’.  

Firstly there are 2 types of stretching - static and dynamic:

  • Static is what most people think of when we say ‘stretch’ & basically means you’re holding a muscle still under tension for a period of time.

  • Dynamic on the other hand is the opposite, where continuous body movement provides a muscle stretch for you (e.g. leg swings back and forth to dynamically stretch the hamstrings).

Which is best?

There’s no right or wrong answer here as we are all built differently & all have different goals we want to achieve. There is medical research for & against both types of stretching so it depends what paper you read & want to cherry-pick!! 

The general consensus though is to favour more dynamic style of stretches prior to doing physical activity (depending on what the activity is). The main aim though is to WARM-UP! That means getting the blood flowing and you aren’t going to do that holding a static stretch for 30secs!! 

Post-activity then static stretching is still encouraged (longer held/20-30secs) and can feel nice after a heavy workout.

Why could pre-activity static stretching harm performance?

Well researchers have thought for a while that static stretches (pre-activity) may reduce body strength, power & performance in elite athletes. However, this loss is only reported to be between 1-5%!! That doesn’t seem a lot to you & me but for an athlete where the margins are tiny, any advantage is important. 

Does stretching prevent injury?

No, contrary to belief, the research evidence is inconclusive to say that stretching alone prevents injury. There are many people out there who exercise & never warm up/cool down with stretches and are fine & never get injured. I’m not advocating never stretching but it just shows there is no 1 size fits all.

The 1 thing I see is everyone worrying about stretches and not focusing on strengthening/loading the body properly in preparation for activity. So strengthen more than stretch!! 

So should I bother stretching?

Of course you can. Hopefully this blog hasn’t put you off from stretching. It’s still a great recovery tool to use pre/post physical activity and for some really helps both physically & psychologically to feel better. 

Long term having some flexibility is vital to stop feeling stiff and sore as we all get older and is why Yoga is very much in fashion. So overall don’t stop stretching, it can still be a part of your recovery just don’t forget to strengthen the body to make it resilient to all stress and strain first!

 

Thanks for reading.  

Oliver.  

 

If you would like more advice or to arrange an appointment with us at the Physio & Sports Injury Clinic in Rhos on Sea, then click the link below.