Stretching is one of those things that every expert recommends, but not everyone fully explains the reasons behind this practice. Let’s begin by saying that stretching is very important, both before and after exercise. Unlike some, we will not expect you to take us at our word. We will show you a large amount of evidence to support this inescapable fact.
The Three Main Reasons To Stretch
In general, there are three tangible benefits that you can obtain from complete and frequent stretching:
- Decreased muscle soreness after a hard workout
- Increased flexibility
- Reduced risk of injury
Here is a very exhaustive study, carried out by the International Journal Of Sports Physical Therapy. It cites a lot of other research and gives you a lot of material if you would like to dive deeper into this subject. For our purposes, it is enough to look at the results.
The study found that all types of stretching were effective at improving range of motion in a wide variety of patients. The study also found that some groups will benefit far more than others from stretching. One example of this is a study done on army recruits.
Since these army recruits were almost certainly involved in a fitness program anyway, a little extra stretching could not be expected to make a large difference for these particular test subjects. However, a small decrease in muscle soreness was recorded. A better example is this study, which found that warm-up stretching made a significant difference in the onset of post-exercise soreness.
So, we have proven that stretching is effective in reducing post-workout soreness, and we have proven that it is effective for increasing flexibility. Some researchers have disagreed with the first point, but there is universal agreement that stretching will improve flexibility. In fact, stretching is the primary method used in most sports to improve flexibility. This is such a well-known fact that it requires no research.
On the third subject, as to whether or not stretching will reduce the risk of injury, the debate is still ongoing. Most research seems to agree that frequent stretching will make at least some difference in your risk of injury. However, many researchers have concluded that the difference is rather small. That being said, most of these studies have not been conducted with long-term observation.
The reduced risk of injury that comes from this activity would logically be hard to measure when viewed in the short-term. The fact is that athletes throughout history have found that stretching reduces the likelihood of injury, so it seems safe to trust the popular wisdom on this one.
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Why You Should Stretch After A Workout
There is no need to discuss the reasons for stretching before a workout since this is the normal way to stretch. Most people don’t understand the benefits of stretching after your workout. In fact, most people don’t even do this. After a workout, many people are eager to get on with their day, and they don’t bother to stretch. This is a mistake because some research seems to indicate that post-workout stretching is more effective than pre-workout stretching.
This kind of makes sense when you consider the fact that muscle tends to build more quickly after a workout than during a workout. The body cannot build and work at the same time without reducing the effectiveness of one or the other. Likewise, your body cannot work and repair at the same time. Like a computer, your body can only do so much work at one time. When faced with multiple tasks, the body divides its resources much as a computer would do.
The Different Types Of Stretches:
Many people are unaware of the fact that there are different methods of stretching that fall into one of several categories:
This is the kind of stretch in which you stretch your muscle to a state of mild discomfort, and then hold the position for a set duration of time. For serious training, this duration is typically at least 30 seconds. A good example of this type of stretching would be the seated toe touch.
These are stretching exercises that involve a little more movement. They use gentle repetitive movements in which the range of motion is slowly increased until it reaches a point where mild physical discomfort ensues. A good example of this kind of exercise would be the arm circle stretches.
Ballistic stretching is probably the hardest on your body, but it also offers the quickest and greatest gains in terms of flexibility. These exercises involve stretching your body until it is nearing the point of full tension. Once you reach your limit, you use bouncing or jerking motions to increase the range of motion gradually. This kind of stretching is sometimes aided by a partner pushing down. You have to be careful with this kind of thing, as the risk of injury can be high if you don’t know what you are doing. A good example of ballistic stretching would be the typical pancake stretch.
This is a different sort of stretching that works on different principles. PNF stands for Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation. When you look at the full name, you can see why most people just call it PNF stretching. There are quite a few methods for doing PNF stretches, but all of them are variations on a basic theme that can be applied in many ways. The idea is that you stretch your muscle to the limit of its range of motion, and you hold the stretch. As you do, you contract and relax the muscle repeatedly.
This method is believed to produce a “deeper” stretch that flexes the muscles down to their deepest level and ensures maximum benefit. Since this is a relatively new method, it is hard to say if it works. There has not been sufficient time to do the research necessary to make a conclusive statement. Here’s a video that gives a basic idea of how PNF stretching works.
As you can see, there is much disagreement about the exact benefits that you will receive from regular and complete stretching. There is also much disagreement as to exactly how much this practice will help you. That being said, no one denies that stretching is a good thing for anyone who is engaged in regular and strenuous physical activity. Not only is it common sense, but the research supports this conclusion as well. If this article has been helpful, please follow us on Facebook.