Sunday, May 22, 2011

Stretching Controversy

Flexibility has been promoted as a component of physical fitness for quite awhile. Despite this, there are many people (as well as research) which claim stretching is not beneficial and may even be detrimental to athletic performance. 

Before we throw stretching under the bus, it is important to determine one's reasons for stretching. I also think it is important to differentiate between warming up and stretching since they are not necessarily the same thing. 

Static stretching would not be a wise thing for a power lifter or sprinter to do prior to their event since it can decrease the ability of muscle fiber to contract, but it may be beneficial for someone rehabilitating an injury or wanting to loosen up after a workout. Our bodies naturally want to stretch when we wake up or after a long cramped ride.

I still consider myself a proponent of stretching, which is kind of ironic, since I am so inflexible. Years ago while at my boy's karate lesson, their instructor invited me to join in on some exercises. He got a kick out of how inflexible I was (no pun intended). He was in awe that my range of motion and flexibility were so limited. I've never been one of those limber people who can bend over and touch the floor with their palms without bending their knees.

Many people associate stretching with sports and athletics as part of a warm-up or for injury prevention, but I believe it is more beneficial to do as part of a meditation or relaxation program. There appears to be quite a bit of data that negates the benefits of stretching prior to athletic events, but I still see many professional athletes stretching as part of their warm-up routine.

The stretching controversy is yet another area where experts and science give us conflicting data. I think stretching is beneficial as part of a wellness program, if for no other reason than the benefits of body awareness, relaxation, and stress relief. I always sleep better when I briefly stretch before going to bed.

If you decide to stretch, here are some guidelines to keep in mind:

* Warm up before stretching. Don't stretch until after you warm up your muscles.
* Relax your muscles while you stretch them and breathe deeply when you stretch.
* Don't stretch a muscle if you are injured or if it causes you pain.
* Don't perform ballistic or bouncing stretches.
* Hold static stretches for 10-30 seconds.
* It may be more beneficial to stretch after exercising to promote recovery.

1 comment:

Louis said...

I have always told people to do dynamic warmups before exercise and static stretches and foam roll after exercise. I do it this way myself. Great article.