Stretching, How and When?

Stretching, How and When?

Stretching, when performed in the right way a the right time, can be a very useful way to improve flexibility and retain range of motion. However many people get it wrong.

For one, it is not a good idea to stretch immediately after exercise. The muscles are likely to have small ruptures or microtrauma from the workout itself, which only gets worse by stretching it. And because of increased blood flow and fluid in the muscle as a result of training, the muscle will be stiffer. Stretching a muscle stiff with blood and fluid will only add to the damage, and therefore muscle soreness.

Second, research has not found any evidence that stretching helps to prevent injuries. Moreover, it even seems to increase risk of injury when performed prior to training, because the muscle can lose strength and is therefore more vulnerable and less stable. This occurs especially as a result of static stretching, which can lower muscle strength by as much as 10-20%.

Not all forms of stretching prior to exercise are a bad idea. Dynamic stretching does have positive effects. When stretching a muscle dynamically, tension on the muscle is gently applied towards their maximum range of motion for short durations. This activates the stretched muscles, preparing them for higher forces and contraction speeds, which can increase maximum strength. In addition it will increase muscle temperature because it is an active form of stretching, whereas static stretching does not.

This does not mean static stretching does not have any benefits, it can increase range of motion in a safe manner. But to reap most benefits and not run additional risk of injury during training, static stretching is best performed on days when no cardiovascular or strength training is planned.