To stretch or not to stretch? Or should that be, when to stretch and when not to stretch?
Stretching exercises are commonly used in injury prevention and warm up routines before sport and exercise. However, scientific research in recent years has shown that most people are getting it wrong as to when and how to stretch.
Stretching has been demonstrated to increase muscle length and also tendon elasticity and this might be appropriate for some sports. Static stretches involve reaching forward to a point of tension and holding the stretch, while dynamic stretches involve moving parts of your body and gradually increasing reach, speed of movement, or both. Static stretches are better for increasing muscle length, while dynamic stretches are more appropriate for increasing tendon elasticity. But stretching also causes a temporary, large decrease in muscle power, depending on the length of the hold, which decreases sporting performance. For example, several research studies have shown that static calf stretches temporarily decrease jump height. Dynamic stretches have also been shown to decrease muscle performance, but much less than that of static stretches.
It appears from the scientific research that the type of stretches you should perform, depends on a number of individual factors, including: the type of sport you play, your technique, whether you have existing muscle tightness or imbalances, and also your age and gender. There is also substantial scientific evidence that it is generally best not to stretch immediately before training or competition, but that stretching should instead be done at other times.
If you have any further questions regarding exercises for injury prevention and performance enhancement, or would like to set up an individualised warm up and training program for your sport, please call us for an appointment.