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The Truth About Stretching

It doesn’t matter if we are a seasoned athlete or a beginner in the gym, it is our notion to always start an exercise routine with stretching before doing anything else because we believe that it would help our performance or prevent injuries. It might even be the first thing we do in the morning before going out of the bed. But do you know that stretching is not what you think it is?

The truth about stretching is this: a recent study has showed that stretching before exercise is unlikely to reduce our risks of injury, prevent sore muscles, or improve our performance.

Gymnast Stretching

What Stretching Is Not For

  • The first myth about stretching that we are going to debunk is this: it helps with the risk reduction of injuries. It doesn’t, because the evidence strongly suggests this. Prof. Rob Herbert, Senior Principal Researcher Fellow in Neuroscience Research Australia, participated in the three largest randomized trials on the effects of stretching.

    Their conclusions—stretching had little or no beneficial effect on reduction in injury. It said “little” because on the third and largest of those studies, they found a hint of an effect on reducing injuries like ligament tears, strains, sprains, and muscle tears. But Prof. Herbert said a disclaimer that if stretching does help with our injury prevention, it is only by a very small amount.

  • Some people believe that stretching can reduce muscle soreness. Again, there is no evidence that stretching reduces or prevents a kind of pain that only shows up a day or two after exercising, called delayed onset muscle soreness. Prof. Herbert said that, “muscle stretching, whether conducted before, after, or before and after exercise, does not produce clinically important reductions in delayed onset muscle soreness in healthy adults.”

  • Now the biggest reveal of all, stretching was said to improve performance. Contradictory to everyone’s belief, it doesn’t. In fact, research even showed that stretching before exercise makes our muscles weaker and slower, even though they feel looser.

    Dr. Ian Shrier, an Associate Professor at the Department of Family Medicine at McGill University in Montreal, in his study, said that this is not entirely bad. A gymnast might require stretching before performance to do a full split during the show. Even though she is weaker, her performance is improved. But this is not the case for a sport like basketball or football where the sport requires strength.

Gymnast Stretching

What Is Stretching For Then?

Now before we start ditching our stretching routines and getting straight to the exercises the next time we are in the gym, let us make this clear—although it has already been proven that stretching doesn’t reduce the risks of injury or prevent sore muscles, there is no evidence that stretching before or after exercise will do us any harm either.

As a matter of fact, stretching for sport and exercise can help with our flexibility by making muscles suppler and by retaining the nervous system to tolerate stretching further. This could increase the ability of a joint to move through its full range of motion, like how it can bend, twist and reach. Some activities like gymnastics need more flexibility than others, like boxing which needs strength first and foremost.

That is what stretching is for—flexibility.

However, we just know for a fact that stretching has this effect, while the mechanics of what is happening to our body when we stretch is still not fully understood. A lecturer in biomechanics from the University of Bath said that it’s unclear whether the increase in range of motion of a joint is due to physical changes in the muscles that control those joints, or just a greater tolerance to stretch. Her words were, “My feeling is that there must be some changes at the muscle-tendon unit level, as just increasing tolerance would not have the scale of effect that can be seen with some stretching programs.”

To wrap up, stretching is not bad for us, but it can be good for an athlete of a sport that requires flexibility like gymnasts. Now if you’re wondering if you should stretch before or after an exercise, the doctors advices that if you don’t want to, you can do without it, but if you want to, you’re free to do it.

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