Is stretching effective? The short answer is yes! Stretching is practiced frequently here at Performance Plus. However, to completely answer that question we first need to be more precise. What does it accomplish, and how or when should we stretch? Some sources may suggest that stretching is a cure all for muscle soreness, an important step in your pre-workout routine, or aides in increasing ROM (range of motion). These benefits, however, need to be taken with a grain of salt. We will discuss or debunk each of these theories.
Let’s begin with the idea that stretching cures muscle soreness. We all have those days: a couple days after a hard workout, during which we targeted a muscle group that we had ignored for a while. We are sore and seeking relief, when someone suggests a stretch. While it may feel good to stretch a sore muscle, stretching will not actually aide in relieving the soreness. You may develop a tolerance for the pain, but the real reason for muscle soreness is from minute tears in your muscle fibers, which ultimately just need time to heal. Avoid stretching aggressively at this time, as it could do more harm than good by further tearing the muscle fibers.
Next we have the idea that stretching is beneficial –necessary, even – for your pre-workout routine. Do you find yourself doing static stretches, where you hold position for just around 30 seconds? If you do, consider instead warming up in a more dynamic way (if you are physically capable of doing so), such as jumping on a stationary bike for a few minutes. Something light, but enough to get your heart rate up. Stretches will serve you much more effectively after your workout and when done consistently. For the same reason that aggressive stretching should be avoided while very sore, stretching over time will strengthen muscles. As in a dynamic workout (albeit on a smaller scale), stretching contributes to hypertrophy or muscle growth via the minute tears it creates in muscle fibers. Therefore, recovery time is so important for gaining strength.
Lastly, we will tackle whether stretching helps increase ROM. ROM is described as the full movement potential of a joint. Very often after an injury ROM is decreased. While stretching has been long known to increase flexibility, as mentioned earlier, more dynamic stretching will serve you better. It is important to know, especially within a sports setting, that static stretching may temporarily weaken the muscles you are stretching. They will get stronger in the long run, but a quick fix is not found in static stretching. Dynamic stretching, on the other hand, such as squats or lunges, is better backed by science to help increase flexibility, range of motion, and strength.
Remember that stretching is beneficial and effective when done appropriately AND at the appropriate times. Consistency is key. Happy safe stretching!