Stretching is often cited as the cornerstone to preventing soreness or injury during and after a workout. It intuitively makes sense - while stretching, there is a sense of opening up your limbs and getting them ready for an exercise regimen. However, studies are now showing that the way you are probably stretching isn't helping very much in preventing soreness and injury. Here is what you should know about the benefits of stretching and how to do it to realize the results your seek.
Before a run, I touch my toes, bend my lower leg back and hold it against my butt with a free hand and twist my torso side to side. Then, I hit the ground running. I don't really know why I stretch the way I do - it's more about having my body experience some movement prior to my intense hour-long run so as not to shock it or let it get caught up in stiffness, but is it even worth it? I'm often told I don't stretch enough before and after exercise, and I'll admit, I've always been to lazy to do it properly, but it looks like research may be on my side (sorta).
According to recent studies, stretching is not all that sacred as it is cracked up to be. In fact, unless you are doing it the right way, it's not worth the time and may even be harmful. Studies show that neither pre-exercise nor post-exercise stretching positively affects soreness and do not support the role of pre-exercise stretching in the reduction of lower extremity injury risk. Other studies beat less around the bush and state flat out that "stretching before exercise does not reduce the risk of injury", putting forth five reasons why it doesn't help and how it may be dangerous: (1) immobilization or heating-induced increases in muscle compliance cause tissues to rupture more easily; (2) stretching before a workout does not influence those in which excessive muscle length is not an issue; (3) stretching does not affect muscle compliance during eccentric activity, which is when strains are believed to occur; (4) stretching can cause damage at the cyto-skeleton level; (5) stretching can mask muscle pain in humans.
I'll be honest, this information is hard for me to believe, because it goes against what I feel the point of yoga is - alignment, flexibility, etc. Stretching opens the muscles, allows them to breathe, so to speak, and improves circulation.
Instead of gripping to the findings in these studies, I dug a little deeper. Turns out, stretching is good for you, but only if you do it the right way.
Recent research points out that static stretching, which is when you hold muscles past the point of tension for longer than 20 seconds, makes you more prone to injury. However, “dynamic stretching” will do the exact opposite by expanding your body’s range of motion, improving blood flow and loosening muscles. This Runner’s World stretching video explains how to stretch correctly and make it beneficial to your body, not pointless or even harmful.
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AlterPhoto Credit: Rob Boudon