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To stretch or not to stretch?

Are there any benefits to stretching regularly?

Whilst I was waiting to do my PT assessment last year, I heard one of the other trainees expounding about the uselessness of stretching in the corridor. It made me smile when I discovered that the entirety of his argument was based on the first result on google! The rest of this article is written based on a variety of scientific research I’ve read - what is the point and purpose of stretching?

There are many different types of stretching. Dynamic stretching is generally used before exercise where you move in and out of the stretch, gradually increasing range of movement as you do. Static stretching, usually after exercise, is where you hold the stretch for a period of time e.g. 15-30 seconds (doing this multiple times with the same stretch is developmental stretching). Ballistic stretching is where you bounce within the stretch – this is generally not recommended for the everyday exerciser to use. PNF (or proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) takes advantage of one the body’s natural reflexes by using short bursts of isometric contraction in order to fully relax the muscle being stretched.

There is actually very little conclusive evidence for stretching improving performance, although of course it depends on how ‘performance’ is being defined, and in which sport! In some instances, it was found to actually decrease some measures of performance, e.g. jump ability and running endurance, if conducted before the exercise. Many of the differences in conclusions from different studies stem from their differing definitions for stretching, warm ups and injuries.

What is clear from the research is that stretching increases the length of the muscle and therefore the range of motion through which the muscle can freely move before reaching the point of failure. Furthermore, extremes of flexibility and inflexibility are significantly correlated with higher rates of injury. One study showed that poor flexibility was associated with 2.5 times the risk of injury as compared with average flexibility and with up to 8 times the risk of injury when compared with high flexibility.

How should you stretch? No need to make it complicated! Studies suggest stretching techniques involving ‘lower force for longer duration’ will improve flexibility. This might look like 3 x 30s stretching for each main muscle group at least once a week. For me, mainly through yoga, stretching has changed how I feel in my body significantly for the better.

Want to move better, feel better in your body and be that little bit harder to kill? Then my suggestion is to find some stretching that works for you!


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