To stretch or not to stretch

Stretching has historically been a staple component of any exercise program, both in rehabilitation and general fitness activities. However, how do we know if it is improving our flexibility or helping us to recover from injury?

Firstly, let’s familiarise ourselves with the different types of stretching:

Static Stretching

This is the most common form of stretching, and is characterised by targeting a muscle group and holding it in a lengthening position for 30 seconds or more. To add to this, an individual can apply an extra force – known as ‘active static stretching’ – or, an external force can be applied passively.

Dynamic Stretching

This type of stretching utilises a more active approach, whereby an individual will mimic the movement that’s required in their chosen sport or exercise. These are purposeful movements to assist the body in specifically preparing for the required exercises to be completed.

Ballistic Stretching

This stretch is predominantly used by athletes, and is thought to force the limbs into an extended range through the use of bouncing movements. The bouncing movements are believed to elicit the stretch reflex component of a muscle.

Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation

There are three different techniques in this style; however, they all capitalise on protective reflex component of the muscle that enhances its relaxation abilities, enabling an increase in flexibility.

So, should I stretch?

The simple answer is yes, if you enjoy it and it feels good. You also might like to try different styles of stretching – such as dynamic movements in your warm-up – and engage in some strength training to assist in improving your mobility and reducing your overall injury risk factors.

What does stretching do?

  • Aims to elongate a tissue to improve mobility and therefore flexibility and range of movement in a joint. However, it does not appear to affect resting postures
  • Stretching – in combination with a strength and cardiovascular intervention – has been shown to improve pain, increase quality of life, and improve sleep in individuals with conditions such as fibromyalgia and multiple sclerosis
  • Can decrease power output if performed prior to competition (static stretching)

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References:

Gómez-Hernández et al., (2020). Benefits of adding stretching to moderate-intensity aerobic exercise programme in women with fibromyalgia: a randomized controlled trial. Clinical Rehabilitation.

Moscão et al., (2020). A review of the effects of static stretching in human mobility and strength training as a more powerful alternative: Towards a different paradigm. Motricidade.

Muanjai et al., (2017). The acute benefits and risks of passive stretching to the point of pain. Eur J Appl Physiol.

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