Stretching myths and facts
Written by guest author Nynke Burggraaff
Stretching is said to reduce injuries and overall benefit the exercise performance. Is this really true though? In this article I will debunk some myths and state some facts.
What is stretching?
The main objectives of stretching before a workout are the prevention of injury, increasing performance and preventing muscle soreness. There are four types of stretching: static, dynamic, ballistic and propriosceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF).
Static stretching is performed by extending the targeted muscle group to its maximal point and holding it for 30 seconds or more. For instance, sitting on the floor with stretched legs while reaching towards your toes.
Dynamic stretching is defined as slightly ‘bouncy”. For example, standing with feet wide and leaning/bouncing on one knee to get a stretch.
Ballistic stretching is similar to dynamic, only more intense and faster.
PNF is performed by first tightening the muscle, letting it relax and then stretching the muscle.
Does stretching prevent injury?
The most common goal for stretching is to prevent injury. As with many subjects related to fitness and health, there is no clear-cut answer as to whether or not stretching in fact prevents injury
There is a great deal of scientific research that does not support the claims that stretching prevents injury. Some experts that claim that stretching will only increase injury. They argue that the stretched muscles become too relaxed and aren’t, so to say, active and on point which is needed for performance.
Most fitness professionals argue that warming up is really what prevents injury. They say this is achieved “by slowly increasing your blood flow and giving your muscles a chance to prepare for the upcoming activity”. Injuries mostly occur from weak and tired muscles.
Does stretching prevent muscle soreness?
Many people stretch before and after a workout with the belief that they will prevent or decrease the level of muscle soreness. However, there is little to zero research to support this claim.
On the contrary, researchers have argued that stretching may contribute to muscle soreness.
After exercising, muscles suffer physical trauma in the form of little tiny tears. When you stretch the muscles even more, it is said this will only increase the muscle soreness as the tears are further torn.
Does stretching make you flexible?
Finally something that the experts agree on! Stretching does help you become more flexible when performed regularly. Keep in mind though, not everyone has the flexibility of a contortionist; this has everything to do with how your body is built.
Stretching summed up.
The truth about stretching and injury prevention is that there is no solidified truth. As with many aspects concerning health and fitness, there is always ongoing research. Most experts advise warming up (by slightly increasing your heart rate) to prevent injury. There is also not much support of the claim that stretching prevents muscle soreness. Some, however, do say it only increases muscle soreness. Experts do agree, as it is easy to prove, that stretching does help increase flexibility.