Stretching – yay or nay?
Oh gosh, I dunno
Do you find that the topic of ‘stretching’ – from its definition to its application and utility – leaves you utterly confused and less likely to make time for it in your life? You are not alone and John will try to dispel some myths and set you up for success on your journey to healthy, useful stretching!
Lets dive in
Let’s start by saying that this little word manages to fill many pages & podcasts, causing friendly & unfriendly debate, with many “experts” expressing their own personal biases rather than engaging with the empirical data from research.
Stretching is a form of physical exercise that involves the deliberate lengthening of muscles to increase flexibility, range of motion, and reduce the risk of injury. While there is some debate about the benefits of stretching, many scientific studies have shown that regular stretching can provide numerous benefits to the body. Here are some of the evidence-based benefits of stretching:
- Improved flexibility and range of motion: Regular stretching can help to increase flexibility and range of motion in the muscles and joints. This can be especially beneficial for athletes or people who engage in physical activities that require a lot of movement, as it can help to prevent injuries and improve performance.
- Reduced muscle tension and soreness: Stretching can help to reduce muscle tension and soreness, particularly after exercise or physical activity. This is because stretching can increase blood flow to the muscles, which can help to reduce inflammation and promote healing.
- Improved posture: Poor posture (another controversial term; think of being ‘stuck’ in a posture as being sub-optimal) is a common problem that may be associated with a variety of health issues, including back pain, neck pain, and headaches. Regular stretching can help to improve access to other postural positions by stretching and strengthening the muscles that support the spine and neck.
- Reduced risk of injury: Stretching can help to reduce the risk of injury by improving flexibility and range of motion. This can be particularly important for athletes or people who engage in physical activities that require a lot of movement, as it can help to prevent muscle strains, sprains, and other types of injuries.
- Improved balance and coordination: Regular stretching can also help to improve balance and coordination by stimulating what are know as proprioceptors in the muscles and fascia. This is equally beneficial for athletes and older adults. Proprioception is the body’s ability to sense its position in space.
- Reduced stress and anxiety: Stretching can also help to reduce stress and anxiety by promoting relaxation and reducing tension in the muscles. This is because stretching can stimulate the release of endorphins, which are natural feel-good chemicals in the brain.
- Improved circulation: Stretching can also help to improve circulation by improving blood flow to the muscles (tight muscles restrict blood and lymphatic flow) and other tissues in the body. This can be particularly beneficial for people who have poor circulation or who sit for long periods of time.
- Improved athletic performance: Finally, regular stretching can help to improve athletic performance by increasing flexibility, range of motion, and balance. This can be especially beneficial for athletes who need to perform at a high level in order to compete.
In a nutshell
Regular stretching can provide numerous benefits to the body, including improved flexibility and range of motion, reduced muscle tension and soreness, improved posture, reduced risk of injury, improved balance and coordination, reduced stress and anxiety, improved circulation, and improved athletic performance.
While there is some debate about the benefits of stretching, the scientific evidence suggests that it can be a valuable addition to any exercise or physical activity routine, with measurable body-mind benefits. It is not only safe (if performed mindfully) but also a desirable habit to build into your day, whether you are hitting the gym or stuck in your chair!
- Herbert RD, Gabriel M. Effects of stretching before and after exercising on muscle soreness and risk of injury: systematic review. BMJ. 2002;325(7362):468.
- Thacker SB, Gilchrist J, Stroup DF, Kimsey Jr CD. The impact of stretching on sports injury risk: a systematic review of the literature. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2004;36(3):371-8.
- Behm DG, Blazevich AJ, Kay AD, McHugh M. Acute effects of muscle stretching on physical performance, range of motion, and injury incidence in healthy active individuals: a systematic review. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2016;41(1):1-11.
- Shrier I. Stretching before exercise: an evidence based approach. Br J Sports Med. 2000;34(5):324-7.
- Small K, McNaughton L, Matthews M. A systematic review into the efficacy of static stretching as part of a warm-up for the prevention of exercise-related injury. Res Sports Med. 2008;16(3):213-31.
- Weppler CH, Magnusson SP. Increasing muscle extensibility: a matter of increasing length or modifying sensation?. Phys Ther. 2010;90(3):438-49.
- Konrad A, Tilp M. Increased range of motion after static stretching is not due to changes in muscle and tendon structures. Clin Biomech. 2014;29(6):636-42.
- McHugh MP, Cosgrave CH. To stretch or not to stretch: the role of stretching in injury prevention and performance. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2010;20(2):169-81.
- Herbert RD, de Noronha M, Kamper SJ. Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011(7):CD004577.
- Behm DG, Blazevich AJ, Kay AD, et al. Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology position stand on the use of stretching for health and performance. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2016;41(1):199-211.
10th September 2023