To stretch or not to stretch, that’s the question. While there’s no doubt stretching improves flexibility, there’s no guarantee it will help prevent injury. In fact, studies on the benefits of stretching show mixed results. A systematic review of medical studies on stretching exercise revealed that while stretching assuredly improves flexibility, it does not necessarily reduce injuries, which are better prevented with thorough warmups, strength training and balance exercises.1
Stretching can, however, improve flexibility, posture, and muscle soreness, as well as improve range of motion and prevent range of motion loss. One key, of course, is to make sure you are engaging in safe and effective stretching using proper techniques.
Here are a few tips for safe stretching:
- Always stretch in a smooth, continuous movement without bouncing, which can cause muscle injury. Hold your stretch for 30 seconds, and as much as 60 seconds in problem areas.
- Never stretch cold muscles. Before stretching, warm up with a 5-minute low intensity exercise, such as light walking or jogging.
- Focus on achieving equal flexibility on each side of your body.
- While you can expect to feel tension when stretching, you should never feel pain. If it hurts, you are overextending.
- Focus on major muscle groups including calves, thighs, hips, lower back, neck, and shoulders, and be sure to equally stretch both sides.
- Maintain a regular stretching schedule of two to three times per week to achieve the greatest benefit.
- If you are injured, adjust your stretching accordingly to avoid further harm. Your doctor or physical therapist can provide guidance about the most appropriate way to stretch.
1 Katie Small , Lars Mc Naughton & Martyn Matthews (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, 213-231, DOI: 10.1080/15438620802310784
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