If you are into fitness you have probably been told to stretch. You can find this type of stretching to be used in the majority of fitness classes or one to one personal training sessions reinforcing the idea that it is good for you. Now what if we told you that passive stretching actually isn’t as beneficial as you might believe and in fact can cause more harm than good. If you visit us in our City of London Studio you will notice that we barely do any kind of passive stretching.
Across the fitness industry there is a mutual consent that you should stretch to overcome injuries, increase flexibility, reduce stiffness or prevent injuries. It’s normal to listen to “experts” and trust their word when it comes to subjects within their expertise. It reassures us and saves us time from reading endless and boring research papers. However what does science actually say about stretching?
- It doesn’t prevent injuries
- It doesn’t improve chronic pain
- It doesn’t reduce muscle stiffness or soreness (long-term)
- It does increase your range of motion (for about 20mins)
- It decreases your force output by 20% (up to 60mins)
- It doesn’t correlate with health
- It does regulate the autonomous nervous system (this is the reason you feel good after doing it)
The majority of the above can be improved by appropriate strength training (either gym, body weight, pilates, isometrics).
Now to address the burning question…..Should I stretch?
Unfortunately the answer is not so straight forward. Firstly, ask yourself why you do it… If you answer YES to any of the following questions then you should STOP doing it:
- Do you stretch because you believe in it?
- Do you stretch to prevent or overcome injuries?
- Do you stretch to get stronger?
- Do you stretch to prevent muscle soreness after training?
- Do you stretch to be healthier?
If for the following questions the answer is YES then you can consider to do some type of stretching
- Do you want to overcome stress?
- Do you want to increase range of motion/flexibility – WARNING this is used in sports that require specific movements (ballet, kickboxing, gymnastics, etc). It is not synonymous of health and your risk of injury increases. Isometrics and strength training in specific ranges of motion are much safer and can help you to increase your flexibility.
Some people tolerate passive stretching better than others. This is why some suffer from reoccurring symptoms.
If you want to relax using stretching our recommendation is to hold the position for no longer than 10 seconds. The discomfort caused by the stretch should not be higher than a 3 out of 10.
What about Yoga? Is that not stretching?
Yes, Yoga has stretching elements but to be fair some versions require more strength than anything else. Unfortunately there is a lot of confusion when it comes to differentiating stretching from strengthening.
Example: Cobra pose to stretch your back: wrong. It stretches your trunk flexors but not your back. It reinforces your back if performed in an active way (without the help of your hands).
In the end it all comes down to the individual and how much can he/she be pushed. A lot of professionals don’t have the tools and/or the time to assess that so the safest way to take their students through a class is to communicate in a clear way while understanding the science. This way everyone get’s to know their body and limitations.
An Acute Bout of Static Stretching: Effects on Force and Jumping Performance, Kevin Power , David Behm , Farrell Cahill , Michael Carroll , and Warren Young
Acute changes in passive stiffness and range of motion post-stretching, Chris Whatmana,b, , Alice Knappsteina, Patria Humea
Effects of stretching before and after exercising on muscle soreness and risk of injury: systematic review, Rob D Herbert, Michael Gabriel
Rhythmic stabilization versus conventional passive stretching to prevent injuries in indoor soccer athletes: A controlled clinical trial, Marcel Bello a, Laura Beatriz Mesiano Maifrino b,c,*, Eliane F Gama b, Romeu Rodrigues de Souza
Effect of integrated yoga on stress and heart rate variability in pregnant women, Maharana Satyapriya, Hongasanda R. Nagendra, Raghuram Nagarathna, Venkatram Padmalatha