Have you read in a popular magazine or Internet article recently that stretching is not good for you because it decreases performance or doesn’t reduce injury risk, and thought to yourself, “Should I stop stretching?” If you’re a regular client at Intelligent Fitness, you’ll come to understand quickly that stretching and Range of Motion (ROM) exercises are very prominent here and different stretching techniques are used frequently in our workouts. When done appropriately, with proper technique, timing, and type of stretching, a good stretch is highly beneficial to clients. So why are some people putting a black mark on stretching? The reason is that some studies have shown that athletes have a decreased performance after doing static stretching beforehand or are inconclusive about whether or not they prevent injury. There are several issues with this point of view. First of all, the main concern here is “athletic performance.” If the studies are accurate, then yes, athletes may suffer in the performance of their sport, whether it’s a few milliseconds in a sprint or millimeters in their jump shot. However, it must be understood that most of these athletes were performing static stretches before their performance. Also, how accurately injury risk and stretching are related can be negated by the simple fact that improper form can lead to injury as a result of muscle tightness (inflexibility). Therefore, for overall health, an increase in ROM is more typically beneficial rather than harmful to individuals.
Here are a few rules that should be followed when performing a stretching routine:
- Warm up your muscles first. A 5-10 minute walk (or slow jog, bike, or elliptical) allows the blood to start moving through the muscles and increase temperature allowing for the muscle fibers to become more elastic and moveable.
- Perform dynamic stretching before a workout. Save the static (passive or active) for afterwards. Dynamic stretching can include: high knees, walking lunges, butt kicks, Frankenstein walk, arm circles, leg swings, and skips.
- When you go to do your static stretches, hold them for 20-30 seconds each and, if time permits, it’s best to do multiple repetitions of the stretch. It’s best to do these after a warm up, and if you’re concerned about a performance do these afterwards instead of before and stick with the dynamic stretching.
- Stretch to the point of being slightly uncomfortable but never in pain.
There are several different types of stretching, as I’ve discussed. Dynamic stretching involves movement based stretches, such as those mentioned above. Passive stretching is when another person stretches your muscles for you, such as what we do at Intelligent Fitness with our clients at the end of their workout. Active stretching is when you stretch yourself, such as a kneeling hip flexor stretch or v-sit. Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (or PNF for short) stretches are those that involve someone passively stretching you as you then contract the muscle being stretched. As your relax the stretched muscle, the person stretching you will then push into a deeper stretch. This is commonly seen as the most beneficial type of stretching to increase ROM.
So should you stretch? As a personal trainer, as an athlete myself, I think that the answer is yes! Can someone stretch too much or at the wrong time? Yes. But if you follow the simple tips above you should easily avoid the “issues” seen with stretching. Be intelligent with your stretching and you’ll be on your way to a healthier, more flexible you!