Wait, what? I thought stretching was good for you!
There is certainly controversy over the effectiveness of stretching, the type of stretching, and the result of stretching on the human body.
Stretching may be the most profusely studied topic as it relates to human movement efficiency and performance. It has been the subject of debate for decades and researchers continue to, well, research!
Studies have been conducted that will support whatever stance you take on stretching.
For example, from the NASM Corrective Exercise Specialist textbook:
“There is moderate evidence to indicate that regular stretching improves range of motion, strength and performance and decreases risk of injury…”
“There is moderate evidence to indicate that pre-exercise stretching performed in isolation decreases strength and performance and does not affect injury risk…”
Huh? Confused? I was.
During the last half century the most common flexibility technique has been Static Stretching.
Static Stretching is when you take a given muscle to its end range of motion, or point of most tension, and then grimace while you uncomfortably hold that position for a given period of time, typically 30 seconds or longer.
Performed incorrectly or too aggressively, static stretching can lead to injury, particularly to your connective tissue. [tendons and ligaments]
Remember those researchers constantly researching? They discovered that static stretching, when performed by athletes immediately prior to competition, may decrease strength and power and may cause a loss of one repetition maximum strength. This effect appears to last about 10 minutes but may last up to one hour.
And, once again, other researchers have proven that stretching does not impair strength and power production.
More recently even fitness gurus are suggesting there is no need for the warm-up and stretch prior to exercise. I just finished reading a book wherein the author suggests that he doesn’t see the need to do all that extra work. Though I may be taking that comment slightly out of context, what is the problem with doing extra work? Why are you exercising in the first place if its not to do some extra work to acheive the benefits of a healthier you?
Lumping the pre-exercise warm-up with static stretching and saying don’t do it – is a mistake.
Dynamic stretching, which is about joint movement as much if not more so than it is muscle and connective tissue stretching, is the latest greatest technique to be used during the warm-up, during some routines, and during the cool-down. This involves moving muscles and limbs throughout the full range of motion, to the end range of motion, but not statically holding there.
You might alternate movements from side to side, front to back or from one limb to the other more like normal human movements.
Dynamic stretching has been shown to provide many benefits including improving neuromuscular function, blood flow, oxygen uptake, muscle compliance, and range of motion.
While research has shown that pre-exercise stretching may not have an effect on prevention of injury, it also does not appear to present any negative consequences relative to injury, unless you push too far and injure yourself during the actual stretch!
There is evidence supporting long-term, regular stretching in order to improve range of motion, strength and performance and reduce injury risk.
Studies have shown that any end range of motion benefits gained from long-term, regular stretching are negated after only 4 weeks of no stretching. Use it or lose it!
Are you still with me?
This is the “crux of the biscuit!”
The psychological benefits of stretching may be just as great, if not more so, than the physical benefits.
Studies have shown that stretching reduces self-reported muscle tension, results in a decreased feeling of sadness, and can decrease the levels of stress-related hormones.
Individuals reported feelings of reduced tension after stretching, and feel that this mentally prepares them for physical activities!
Where do I sign up?
So is stretching really bad for you?
Static stretching can be bad for you if you take it too far and injure your connective tissue in the process.
Static stretching may decrease your initial performance capacity in competition.
Static stretching is NOT recommended if you suffer from hypermobility syndrome. (Too Stretchy – topic for another post.)
Static stretching, performed correctly, may increase your end range of motion – flexibility – but, why are you attempting to increase your end range of motion in the first place?
Dynamic movement/dynamic stretching has been shown to provide many health benefits.
The XFNC program encourages both the warm-up prior to exercise and the cool down immediately following exercise.
The XFNC warm-up includes some cardio work and dynamic movement/stretching, for a duration of 8 to 10 minutes.
The XFNC cool-down includes mostly dynamic movement and stretching held only during an exhale, for a duration of 8 to 10 minutes.
Combined the warm-up and cool-down involve a total body dynamic stretching routine which includes: Neck, shoulders, arms, spine, hips, glutes, hamstrings, calves and quads.
This is performed every exercise day for the many long-term benefits it provides PLUS the mental preparation for physical activity AND stress reduction.
Regular stretching has been reported to reduce aches and pains, reduce stress and tension, and make you feel better and more prepared for physical activity!
If you were incredibly limited for time and only did the XFNC warm-up and cool-down, you would have at least gotten in a 20 minute exercise routine, and that would be better than nothing at all!