Whenever stretching is raised as a topic, a lot of people usually have different things to say, sometimes, the things they sayare mostly based on sentiments and myths while other times they are backed with scientifically researched facts. Wikipedia defines stretching as a form of physical exercise in which a specific muscle or tendon (or muscle group) is deliberately flexed or stretched in order to improve the muscle’s felt elasticity and achieve comfortable muscle tone. Also, according to Wikipedia, the result of stretching is a feeling of increased muscle control, flexibility, and range of motion.
But is this really correct? The belief that stretching is important and that before we take part in any sport we have to stretch as a form of warm-up has been instilled into right from nursery days. As kids in the nursery class, you will be asked to turn your hips and stretch your arms and legs when its time for P.E. Our teachers told us then that it was important to stretch our muscles and do some other warm-ups before any sport to reduce the risk of injury. However, despite the popularity and the common belief, science has proved that stretching does not always protect us amateurs from injuries and neither does it protect professional athletes from injuries too. In fact, stretching can prove to be detrimental when it is done excessively.
Common Misconceptions Concerning Stretching
Imagine having to stretch your joints and muscles for about one hour or forty-five minutes in some cases, static stretching as it is commonly called is believed to aid muscle movement and flexibility when it is done before a sport. But even this has been proved to be medically incorrect. According to PubMed, an extensive review of over 4,500 studies was conducted in 2011 and this led researchers to a conclusion that static stretching does not have any significant positive effect on muscle performance. However, it was discovered that excessive stretching is detrimental to muscle strength and performance.
Also, in another study that was conducted by researchers to determine if stretching as a form of warm helps in a sprint race, it was discovered that stretching had no positive impact on the race but it, in fact, slowed down the athletes at the start of the race, This is because stretching the muscles before the sprint made the muscles weak and this, in turn, caused a reduction in the ability of the muscles to generate explosive power at the beginning of the race, this means the athletes that stretched just before the race had a slow start and this affected their performance in the sprint.
According to a study conducted by FIFA during “11+” program which was organized by the medical research team of the federation, it was discovered that warm-up regimens prescribed by the medical team helped to reduce instances of acute injuries in players that fully complied to the warm-up prescription as opposed to player who did not comply fully and players who did not comply at all. This proves that indeed there is a need to observe gentle warm-up exercises before you take part in a sport.
Another misconception about stretching is that it helps to heal sore muscles and sports injuries. Studies have proven that this is also inaccurate and that it is scientifically impossible for stretching to help heal a damaged muscle. When muscles are damaged during stressful activity, they become sore and painful, naturally, the pain will drive you to attempt to change the possible of the muscle hence the reason why you feel the need to stretch your sore muscles. However, it has been proven that this does not help the muscle to heal or heal faster. When muscles are damaged or injured, they need time to heal and further stretching of such muscle will likely slow down the healing process rather than speeding it up.
With these studies and discoveries, should we stop stretching as a form of warm-up completely? The answer is no, although it does not exactly work well as a warm-up due to the stress it causes to the muscles, however, depending on the kind of activity about to be carried out, everyone is advised to take part in some form of warm-up that will incorporate stretch in a way that is similar to the intended activity. According to NSCA, most athletes are advised to engage in the form of stretching that is appropriate for their sport but it should be done during cool down or as a separate training session and it should be done after general warm-up so as not to cause any harm to the muscles
One of the logic behind the importance of warm-up is to work the muscles in a light manner so as to get them ready for activities that a person might be planning to carry out. For instance, when a person about to lift weights, they are usually instructed to start slow by warming up with exercises and carrying lesser weight, the idea is in line with the same reason why we start up cars and leave it to run for a couple of minutes during winter. When you allow a car to warm up before driving it, you give the engine and its components the chance to prepare for the journey you are about to embark on. That is the same way it works in the human body when you are about to lift weights, there is a need to have a gentle warm-up routine before the actual weight lifting so that the body can adapt quickly to the strain that will accompany the weight lifting.
The reason why amateurs and first-timers tend to pull a muscle while lifting weight is partly that the body was not allowed to prepare for the activity. When the body is not ready or warmed up for an activity, injury is bound to happen. This why athletes of various sports engage in light exercises and dynamic stretching rather than the passive static stretching because, at the end of the day, stretching has its advantages even it is barely noticeable.
In conclusion, stretching is not as beneficial as we have been led to believe, however, stretching cannot be completely eliminated from our workouts, especially because stretching can improve the range of movement around a joint and potentially increase power.
- Static Stretching Alters Neuromuscular Function and Pacing Strategy, but Not Performance during a 3-Km Running Time-Trial -https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4048241/
- Effect of acute static stretch on maximal muscle performance: a systematic review – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21659901
- Static Stretching and Performance – https://www.nsca.com/education/articles/kinetic-select/static-stretching-and-performance/