Stretching (see part 1)has no inherent physiological health benefits. Should anyone stretch? Why stretch at all? As my brother, an auto mechanic might say, “…there’s a tool for every job, pick the right one”. Stretching is a a tool that can enhance athletic performance and exercise, and impede athletic performance and exercise. As a tool, it can help alleviate cramps and a sense of physical discomfort, but overused can lead to excessive joint laxity and increased risk of injury. It is a tool to be used specifically, not blindly. It is not inherently healthier to be more flexible. This isn’t about faith or dogma. Why and how we are stretching is the question.
- It will not lesson muscle soreness after a workout.
- It will not prevent or reduce the risk of getting muscle cramps if done before a workout.
- It can increase the risk of injury due to excessive joint laxity. The more flexible a joint is, the more inherently unstable it is, leaving the joint vulnerable to dislocation and tendon/ligament injury).
- It might decrease sport specific performance (extremely elongated muscle will have reduced inherent muscular tension; tension which aids in the contractile response. All muscle fibers have an automatic contract reflex when the brain senses the muscle has reached a certain length/stretch. This reflex causes the muscle to contract suddenly, and can aid in activities that require explosive movements.
- It can help correct or minimize musculoskeletal pain and discomfort caused by muscular tightness and imbalance (lower back, hip, knee, ankle).
- It can reduce the risk of cramping, post exercise and athletic activity.
- It might help in alleviating active cramps.
- It can enhance the performance of specific activities prior to, and after, like:
- Weight lifting, Aerobics, and Athletics: each form has its own specific flexibility and range of motion (ROM) requirements where overly tight muscles could impede performance.
- Martial arts
There are different types of stretching techniques that are popular. They each have benefits when applied appropriately.
- Static Stretching refers to the technique of lengthening a muscle to the point of mild discomfort and holding that position for 30-90 seconds. In my experience this is the least functional of the prescribed methods. Animals, and their associated joints move, and in most real world situations you wouldn’t bend down to touch your toes and not move for 90 seconds. It might be more efficacious when dealing with certain injuries and post exercise to use this technique, but modern research is moving against this technique. Traditional stretching is the most common form, with PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) being an advanced technique that has demonstrated quicker, and greater results.
- Dynamic Stretching refers to the technique of moving a joint through a range of motion into a stretch, and then back out of the stretch. This is done repetitively and rhythmically in a way that facilitates flexibility for a specific activity, without short circuiting the natural contractile responses of the targeted muscle. It would apply to virtually any activity listed under pros, and would be most beneficial to perform before, during, and after the activity. An advanced technique would be AI (Active Isolated Stretching) advocated by the father/son team of Jim and Phil Wharton.
- Ballistic Stretching refers to the method of bouncing, swinging, and flinging a limb or body part into a deep stretch and then letting the muscle bounce out of the stretch. This method should be avoided at all times and at all costs! This method can actually cause the targeted muscles to shorten and tighten more. It has no reported sport specific benefits that I’ve read.