Stretching comes naturally to the human body. Not only does it free up our muscles and improve our flexibility, it also serves as a ‘reset’ to the mind and helps us to become more alert. It feels good, refreshes us and can help us to move more freely.
But is it really the case that the more flexible you are, the more effective your exercise will be or that you will reduce injuries? Or that we should all aspire to the same range of motion? Here’s our take on the most common beliefs about stretching.
Stretching does not necessarily improve your performance
It depends on the kind of exercise you are doing. Yoga, pilates and martial arts are built around improving your flexibility and focus on increasing your ability to stretch. However, when it comes to team sports like basketball, higher performing athletes tend to be ‘tighter’ in their ligaments – perhaps because taut hamstrings offer stability to the knee and reduce the impact that comes from playing fast-paced sport. In fact, stretching before sprinting sports has been shown to slow you down.
The main takeaway is that high performance is not related to how far you are able to stretch. While stretching helps to warm up your body before exercise, don’t get too hung up on how much or how far you are able to push your body’s flexibility.
Stretching will NOT reduce injuries
It’s hard to believe but stretching before exercise has not been shown to reduce injuries or soreness afterwards. Stretching a cold muscle may even lead to tears and pulls. It is best to get the blood pumping by doing gentle warm ups and dynamic stretches.
Dynamic stretching is more effective than static stretching
If you decide to stretch before exercise, it’s best to opt for dynamic stretching. Examples of this include lunges, arm swings and star jumps. They get the body moving and each stretch isn’t held for long, as opposed to static stretching which involves holding one position for a period of time. Dynamic stretches often mimic the activity or sport you’re warming up for, which makes the transition from inactivity to activity less of a shock for the body.
Effective Stretching Is Sometimes Uncomfortable
No, it shouldn’t be. If your body hurts or twinges when you’re stretching, this means you’re going too far. It’s important to breathe deeply and regularly – many people find themselves subconsciously holding their breath while stretching, which can raise discomfort and tense the muscles you’re supposed to be freeing up.
If you’d like to know more about the best kind of stretching for you, book in with our physio or our chiropractors.