Why Most Stretching Does Not Work and May Ultimately Leave You More Prone to Injury

What Is Stretching?

Stretching is defined as, “to lengthen, widen or distend.”  Stretching is used by many athletes and active individuals for the purpose of lengthening muscles in hopes of improving flexibility and preventing injuries.  Stretching is either dynamic (involving motion during the stretch) or static (involving no motion during the stretch).  Dynamic stretching affects athletic flexibility and static stretches affect flexibility at rest.

What Are The Different Types of Stretching?

  • Ballistic Stretching

  • Dynamic Stretching

  • Active Stretching

  • Passive (or Relaxed) Stretching

  • Static Stretching

  • Post-Isometric Relaxation (PIR)

  • Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF)

What Are Your Benefits From Stretching?

If you are an athlete or active individual there are many direct and indirect benefits to stretching:

  • Enhanced physical fitness through improved range of motion

  • Enhanced ability to learn and perform skilled movements

  • Increased mental and physical relaxation

  • Enhanced development of body awareness

  • Reduced risk of injury to joints, muscles, and tendons

  • Reduced muscular soreness

  • Reduced muscular tension

  • Increased muscle suppleness (softness) due to stimulation of the production of chemicals which lubricate connective tissues

What Are Your Risks If You Stretch Wrong?

Unfortunately, even those who stretch do not always stretch properly.  Research has proven that athletes who stretch improperly not only loose the benefits of stretching but are also at a significantly higher risk of muscle pulls/strains as compared to athletes who do not stretch at all.  Some of the most common mistakes athletes make when stretching are:

  • Improper warm-up

  • Inadequate rest between workouts

  • Overstretching

  • Performing the wrong exercises

  • Performing exercises in the wrong (or sub-optimal) sequence

How Should You Prepare to Stretch?

Ideal stretching starts with a proper warm-up.  If you are going to skip this step, you mind as well skip stretching all together (a.k.a. research shows you are safer not to stretch, if you skip a warm-up).  A warm-up can be anything that brings your core temperature up, pumps more blood into the muscles and warms up the tissues you will be stretching.  You know you are warmed up when you break a slight sweat…of course the Houston heat will do this at rest (Warm-up:  5-10 min of light swim/walking/cycling, jumping rope, jumping jacks, etc.).  Imagine stretching a piece of plastic wrap.  If you stretch it prior to heating it up, what do you think will happen?  You got it…it will tear.  That is what the fascia in and around your muscles do when you stretch prior to warming up.  Eventually over time, little tears turn into bigger tears called a pulled/strained muscle.  You can prevent this common sports injury by simply warming your muscles up before stretching or training!

How Should You Ideally Stretch?

After a proper warm-up, you should focus your stretching on the major muscle groups that produce the most repetitive motions in during your sport.  Do not waste your time stretching every muscle in your body before every swim, bike and run.  Stretch specific to the sport you are about to engage in.  For minimal results and benefits from your stretching; hold each stretch for 30 seconds and repeat 3-5 times (1.5-2.5 minutes per stretch).  For maximal results and benefits, research shows each static stretch should be held for 5-6 minutes.  Stretching can always be done before and after activity.  I suggest stretching before strength training, interval training, speed work, hill work and competition as well as after these activities.  If you are doing long-slow or short distance training you can save your stretching until after.

How Do You Find the Time To Stretch?

Why do most runners, triathletes, cyclists, golfers and tennis players not stretch before and after training or competition?  You got it…TIME!  You do the math, the average number of stretches you will want to do for your sport is 10.  For minimal results it will take you 20 minutes and for maximal results you are looking at 55 minutes.  Who has the time to stretch?  I know I don’t!

Why Should You Stretch Like-A-Pro?

Ever notice the pros or the athletic trainers who stretch out the pros do not take 20-55 minutes to stretch after warming-up?  Why do you think this is?  They are either not stretching properly or they know how to get better results from their stretching in less time.  We have been showing athletes and active individuals in our clinic for years how to stretch like the pros and attain stellar results in less time.

How Do You Stretch Like-A-Pro?

To stretch like-a-pro you need to get maximal results in minimal time.  The pros cannot skip their warm-up but they can speed-up the results from their stretching.  They do this by using advanced stretching techniques called Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF), Post-Isometric Relaxation (PIR) and/or Eccentric Stretching.  By using these techniques (which we don’t have the time to go into in this article) they can get the maximal results and benefits from their stretching in 10 minutes.  That’s right…10 minutes!  Even, I have 10 minutes to stretch before or after my training.