The stretching confusion: 5 rules to do the right thing!
Everyone seems to have his own theory when it comes to stretching. I totally understand if you get confused by all the different information out there.
Maybe you asked yourself these questions before:“Should I stretch before training”, “Should I stretch to prevent muscle soreness?”, “Will I ever get as flexible as the woman next to me in the Yoga class?”, “Is it important to be as flexible as possible?”
Here is a little summary about stretching. This blog post is based on scientific research and my own experience. Research is still going on regarding that topic and scientists might come up with some new theories and findings during the coming years.
Stiff as a poker or flexible as a rubber band?
Your flexibility is genetically determined and not only a question of training. Someone successful as a soccer player would have never become a ballet dancer and vice versa. Because of his constitution someone already as a kid will be successful playing soccer and frustrated when joining the ballet class.
In general young people tend to be more flexible than older people, and females tend to be more flexible than males.
An active person tends to be more flexible than an inactive one, not only when you do flexibility exercises but also when performing properly designed resistance training program or functional activities.
Being more flexible doesn’t mean to be “better”, not at all.
Your sport performance can benefit from a greater flexibility if your sport and activities require a greater flexibility. Therefore there are optimal ranges of flexibility for different sports , and injury risk may be increased when you are outside of your range. It is important to note that both inflexibility and hyper-flexibility can result in higher risk of injury!
Hyper-flexibility can also mean less protection for certain structures of the body and is not desirable.
When to stretch?
Intense stretching in a warm-up is not recommended as it can compromise muscle performance, especially when it comes to speed strength.
For sure I am not talking about exceptions like when your sports is for example gymnastics where you need to integrate stretching to your warm up because your performance is relying on an increased range of motion.
Best time for stretching is 5 to 10 minutes after your training or sport activity because your muscle temperature is still increased which facilitates improvements. If you do an individual stretching session always warm up before to raise your muscle temperature.
By the way, it is a myth that stretching can avoid muscle soreness, no matter if you stretch before or after physical activity.
How to stretch?
For practical use I recommend static stretching (= holding the position without bouncing. This bouncing-type movement is called ballistic stretch and is not recommended due to several reasons). Best is to hold the stretches for 30 seconds at a position of mild discomfort (NOT pain).
Positive side effects
Stretching has an effect on your nervous system and hormone release which makes you feel more relaxed and loose after stretching. It boosts your body perception, subjective well-being and your relaxation ability.
Different ranges of motion in this group of Yoga practicing women
Our 5 stretching rules
1. I recommend you to do stretching exercises to maintain or increase your flexibility when needed. However, don’t use stretching as your cooling down program as it won’t prevent your muscles to feel sore the next day like cooling down will, but do it afterwards if you wish. Some stretching can also make you feel more relaxed and it can set a good finish to your program.
2. Avoid intense stretching before training or your sport activity, unless your sport requires that particular flexibility!
3. In general it is very individual if people profit from stretching and which body regions will. Avoid excessive stretching on already hyper-flexible regions, as this can lead to pain, but focus on your “tight regions”. Let me give you an example: Your Hamstrings might be super flexible already but your pectoral muscle feels tight. So go and stretch your chest and not the back of your legs even it is more fun and comfortable to put your attention there because you are already good in it. Listen to your body and figure out your own stretching comfort zone!
4. Again, the right way to stretch: Warm up your muscles first (a 10 min warm up at least)! Go in the stretching position where you feel mild discomfort and stay there for 30 seconds. Every time you breath out you can go a bit deeper into the pose.
5. If you you are a busy person who hasn’t got a lot of time for sports it is for sure better to take that half hour to get moving than to lay down and stretch. You will profit a lot more from going for a run or do some training than from stretching your muscles!