Whether you’re an elite athlete or you’re just trying to stay in shape, it is common practice to perform stretches before engaging in an exercise activity. Recent research however, suggests that stretching before exercising is unlikely to reduce your risk of injury. That being said, there is no evidence that stretching before or after exercise will cause any harm either. That brings the question, should you stretch before exercise? Short answer: If you enjoy stretching, or it is a part of your current exercise routine, there is no reason to stop. Find out more about the mechanics of stretching below, and decide for yourself how much stretching you need in your life.
For sports and exercising, stretching is used as a method to improve ones flexibility. Being flexible increases the ability of a joint to move through its full range of motion (ROM); in other works, how far it can bend, twist and reach. Some activities/sports require more flexibility than others.
Different types of stretches
· Static stretch: stretching a muscle to its end-range that is usually a point of mild discomfort, and holding that position. For maximal benefits, the stretch should be held for no less than 60 seconds.
· Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF): PNF is a ‘muscle-energy technique’ that typically involves holding a stretch while alternating contracting and relaxing the muscle.
· Dynamic stretch: performing gentle repetitive movements while gradually increasing the range of movement but always remaining within a comfortable ROM.
· Ballistic stretch: stretching a muscle and performing bouncing/jerking type movement in order to increase the range of motion. This type of stretching is typically not recommended as it increases the risk of moving beyond the body’s natural capability and may therefore cause injury.
Do I need to be flexible?
Simply said: it depends. The flexibility demands of a gymnast will be vastly different from those of a runner. In other words, depending on the type of physical activity you want to engage in, you will require more or less flexibility. A muscle acts similarly to an elastic band in that it has the ability to store and release energy like a spring. Having too much flexibility may reduce the muscle’s natural spring, which may be detrimental in activities that involve jumping, landing or suddenly changing directions. On the other hand, too little flexibility may increase the risk of muscle strain, as the muscles may not have the elastic ability to lengthen through the desired range of movement.
When is the best time to stretch?
The best time to stretch is when the muscles are warm and pliable. This could be during exercise such as yoga or Pilates for example, or just after exercising. However, there is limited evidence about specifically stretching after exercise. That being said, a post-exercise stretch allows you to slow down your heart rate, and bring the body and mind back to a resting state.