It’s estimated that the average adult makes around 35,000 conscious decisions per day with at least 225 of them dedicated to food, according to researchers at Cornell University. For many of us, a number of those 35,000 decisions per day revolve around our fitness routines – ranging from whether we should go to the gym on a given day to deciding if we should stretch before and/or after we exercise. While the first option is really up to you and how you’re feeling that day, the second one doesn’t have a clear-cut answer, since stretching happens to be one of the most hotly debated fitness topics right now. This leaves us with yet one more big decision to make: to stretch or not to stretch?
There are those who believe that stretching is a pleasant ritual, but not an important part of fitness, while others swear by the benefits of stretching – improving flexibility, fixing poor posture and preventing injuries. As a Sports Medicine review article, “Stretching and Injury Prevention: An Obscure Relationship,” states, “It is generally accepted that increasing the flexibility of a muscle-tendon unit promotes better performances and decreases the number of injuries.” But, the review article also adds, “Apparently, no scientifically based prescription for stretching exercises exists and no conclusive statements can be made about the relationship of stretching and athletic injuries.” So, in short, it sums up the contradictory findings by acknowledging that several authors have suggested that stretching has a beneficial effect on injury prevention, while noting that clinical evidence suggests that stretching before exercise doesn’t prevent injuries.
The International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy article “Current Concepts In Muscle Stretching For Exercise And Rehabilitation” expands on this concept and bridges that gap in thinking by declaring, “While the benefits of stretching are known, controversy remains about the best type of stretching for a particular goal or outcome.” By focusing on an individual’s needs, The International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy can create tailored stretching programs based on people’s unique circumstances. The article highlights three muscle stretching techniques, or types of stretching, which are static, dynamic and pre-contraction. According to Men’s Journal, the two most popular types of stretching techniques are static, which is holding a position, and dynamic, which is moving quickly through positions. Some experts believe that static stretching can improve joint mobility and body alignment, increase range of motion and prevent everyday pain and injury, while others say that it might not add much additional benefit if you’re active and are already doing dynamic stretches as part of your workout regimen. Research suggests that while dynamic stretching before a workout can be beneficial, static stretching right before a workout might not be a good idea and may result in injury stemming from stretching with cold muscles. Men’s Journal advises that you stretch and cool down after workouts to reset your body to a natural position and posture. Otherwise, it’s possible that you might have increased stiffness and soreness later on if you don’t stretch the parts of your body that are tight.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that healthy adults should do flexibility exercises like stretches, yoga and tai chi for all major muscle groups – neck, shoulders, chest, trunk, lower back, hips, legs and ankles – at least twice per week for 60 seconds per exercise. Stretching a couple of times per week promotes flexibility and will help your joints maintain a healthy range of motion, according to Harvard Health Publishing. It’ll also lower the chances of joint and muscle strain.
Once you determine the best stretching technique for you, it’s important to make sure that you’re stretching correctly to prevent injury. And if you’re stretching and feel pain, ease up on the tense muscle right away, so you don’t damage it. Remember to listen to your body as you stretch and make sure that you carve out time each week for your stretching routine, in order to recharge and strengthen your body and mind.