Fitness

Stretching for Flexibility: Should you or Should you not?

Introduction

Stretching has been a mandatory part of training for decades. It is common to see people stretching or trainers helping their clients perform stretches post-workout. Stretching is a technique of lengthening and elongating a muscle or a muscle group, which helps improve flexibility. 

Types Of Stretching

There are mainly four different types of stretching. 

Active static stretching (SS)

This stretching technique involves a person holding their body part in a particular position to lengthen a muscle or a muscle group until the feeling of stretch or discomfort sets in.

Passive static stretching (PS)

It involves the lengthening of a muscle until the feeling of stretch or discomfort with the help of another person or equipment.

Dynamic stretching (DS)

Dynamic stretching involves controlled movements through the joint range of motion.

Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF)

In this stretching technique, the person will perform passive stretches along with isometric contractions.

Why Is Stretching Considered To Be Important?

Stretching has been considered an indispensable part of a workout routine. If you google “the importance of stretching” or ask anyone in the gym, you will probably get responses claiming multiple benefits, such as

  • Helps joints move through a full range of motion.
  • Improves physical performance.
  • Helps relieve post-workout soreness.
  • Reduces the risk of injuries.
  • Promotes circulation.
  • Improves posture.

But are these benefits real or just one of the credulities? This article will help you understand the science behind stretching and if it helps attain the benefits claimed above.

Improving Range of Motion (ROM)

Studies have shown that stretching can help improve the range of motion. However, there are other better alternatives like resistance training which helps improve the range of motion, besides improving strength.

A systematic review was conducted in 2021, which included studies that assessed the effectiveness of stretching versus resistance training to improve ROM. The review found that both stretching and resistance training had the same effect in improving the ROM. Additionally, the improvement in ROM due to stretching is short-lived, i.e., only for 30 mins, while the workout sessions last longer.

So, if you are someone who does resistance training and looking to improve ROM, you are already doing what you are supposed to. And by adding a stretching routine, you are just increasing the workout duration unnecessarily.

Improving performance

Most people claim that stretching help in improving performance. But studies have shown have static and passive stretch can instead acutely drop the performance related to power, strength, and speed.

Additionally, consecutive stretching sets can lead to relaxation, which can last up to 5 minutes, and we want to feel pepped up and not relaxed before the workout, right? However, these effects are mild and can be lessened if the stretches are carried out for 30 to 60 secs per muscle group and are followed by dynamic warm-up activities. We are yet to discover the effect of multiple stretches per muscle group and the effect of the intensity of stretching on performance. 

Helps relieve post-workout soreness

Another popular reason for stretching is to reduce the delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS) or, in simple terms, post-workout soreness. Many individuals report that they feel better after stretching sessions. But that is subjective data that differs from person to person.

Therefore, to get objective data, a review was conducted in 2021, compiling the findings of 11 studies that compared the effect of post-workout stretch (SS and PS) with rest and other recovery interventions like low-intensity cycling on DOMS. Surprisingly, SS and PS did not show any added benefits compared to the other measures. 

Reduces the risk of injuries

Various physical activities or sports involve the muscles undergoing quick shortening followed by stretching, for example, jumping, sprinting, etc. Therefore, many argue that stretching can help minimize injuries in these physical activities. However, many studies have shown no effect of SS and PNF in reducing injuries, and insufficient data is available on DS. 

The relationship between stretching and injury risk is controversial. Some evidence shows the association between flexibility and injury risk, but the association does not mean causation. It is a fact that injury might lead to reduced ROM, but it may not be vice-versa. Therefore, we can assume that a reduced ROM can lead to injuries. However, stretching is only one of the solutions, as there are other interventions like resistance training to improve flexibility.

Promotes blood circulation

Another reason why people, mainly older adults, perform stretches is to improve blood flow. Research findings suggest that a longer stretching duration elicits a decreased oxygen supply to the muscles during stretching and increased muscle blood volume and oxygen supply after stretching. The results indicated that the minimum duration of stretching to sustain an increase in the muscle blood volume after stretching is 2 minutes. 

A study that involved the compilation of the findings of 69 studies suggests that stretching exercises reduce arterial stiffness, heart rate, and diastolic blood pressure and improve vascular endothelial function in middle-aged and older adults.

Promotes posture correction

Nowadays, most people suffer from poor posture due to their sedentary lifestyle. Due to the nature of their work, they spend most of their time sitting in one place constantly for hours.

As a result, most of them are unaware of the correct posture, leading to the shortening or tightening of a particular muscle group and compensatory lengthening of the opposite muscle group. This will eventually lead to various postural problems resulting in back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, etc.

Therefore, many people perform stretches as a part of their daily routine to prevent or treat posture defects. But as per the studies, we need more evidence to prove that stretching will help correct postural deviations.

Conclusion

Stretching has been considered a mandatory part of a workout routine due to its claimed benefits, such as improvement in ROM, relieving DOMS, reduction in the risk of injuries, correction of postural deviations, etc. However, research findings show that there are other alternatives, such as resistance training, which helps improve ROM. And if a person is already performing resistance training, doing stretches will not give any extra benefit; instead, it will unnecessarily increase the training duration. 

Author: Aditi Gurung (INFS faculty)

References

 

  1. Blazevich, A.J. (2019). Adaptations in the passive mechanical properties of skeletal muscle to altered patterns of use. Journal of Applied Physiology, 126(5), pp.1483–1491. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00700.2018.
  2. Afonso, J., Ramirez-Campillo, R., Moscão, J., Rocha, T., Zacca, R., Martins, A., Milheiro, A.A., Ferreira, J., Sarmento, H. and Clemente, F.M. (2021). Strength Training versus Stretching for Improving Range of Motion: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Healthcare, 9(4), p.427. doi:10.3390/healthcare9040427.
  3. Silva Filho, José & Gurgel, Jonas & Porto, Flávia. (2014). Effects of stretching exercises for posture correction: systematic review. Manual Therapy, Posturology & Rehabilitation Journal. 12. 265-272. 10.17784/mtprehabjournal.2014.12.200.
  4. Kato, M., Nihei Green, F., Hotta, K., Tsukamoto, T., Kurita, Y., Kubo, A. and Takagi, H. (2020). The Efficacy of Stretching Exercises on Arterial Stiffness in Middle-Aged and Older Adults: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized and Non-Randomized Controlled Trials. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(16), p.5643. doi:10.3390/ijerph17165643.
  5. ‌ Matsuo, H., Kubota, M., Shimada, S., Kitade, I., Matsumura, M., Nonoyama, T., Koie, Y., Naruse, H., Takahashi, A., Oki, H., Kokubo, Y. and Matsumine, A. (2020). The Effect of Static Stretching Duration on Muscle Blood Volume and Oxygenation. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. [online] doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000003457.
  6. Small, K., Mc Naughton, L. and Matthews, M. (2008). A Systematic Review into the Efficacy of Static Stretching as Part of a Warm-Up for the Prevention of Exercise-Related Injury. Research in Sports Medicine, 16(3), pp.213–231. doi:10.1080/15438620802310784.
  7. Afonso, J., Olivares-Jabalera, J. and Andrade, R. (2021). Time to Move From Mandatory Stretching? We Need to Differentiate ‘Can I?’ From ‘Do I Have To?’ Frontiers in Physiology, 12. doi:10.3389/fphys.2021.714166.
  8. Afonso, J., Clemente, F.M., Nakamura, F.Y., Morouço, P., Sarmento, H., Inman, R.A. and Ramirez-Campillo, R. (2021). The Effectiveness of Post-exercise Stretching in Short-Term and Delayed Recovery of Strength, Range of Motion and Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Frontiers in Physiology, 12. doi:10.3389/fphys.2021.677581.
  9. Afonso, J., Ramirez-Campillo, R., Moscão, J., Rocha, T., Zacca, R., Martins, A., Milheiro, A.A., Ferreira, J., Sarmento, H. and Clemente, F.M. (2021). Strength Training versus Stretching for Improving Range of Motion: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Healthcare, 9(4), p.427. doi:10.3390/healthcare9040427.

 

 

 

 

 

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