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Is stretching necessary? by Matthew Romans

One of the most common topics that we discuss with both new and long-term Total Results clients is stretching. That's probably because it is something that is regularly promoted as important by the fitness industry, yet it is often misunderstood and much misinformation has been put forth. We see people touting the benefits of flexibility in yoga and Pilates classes, we see professional athletes stretching before practices and games, and we even see people on television stretch when they get out of bed in the morning. What is the truth and what is fiction? Is stretching really necessary? Does it help you or harm you? Hopefully this post can clear up some misconceptions.

When most people think about or perform stretching, they are doing static stretching. This involves stretching to the point of some slight discomfort and holding that position for a certain amount of time, usually 15 to 30 seconds. Sometimes this sequence is repeated more than once. Most of us have seen people on the track or prior to some athletic contest bending down at the waist in an effort to stretch their hamstring muscles; this is an example of static stretching. There is also another type of stretching called PNF stretching, which stands for Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation. This requires the help of a partner. PNF stretching involves overriding the Golgi tendon reflex, which is a self-induced inhibitory effect to protect both the muscle and tendon from injury due to too much tension. This type of stretching is done when a partner tries to push the affected limb further back, while the person stretching provides active resistance. This results, temporarily, in an increased range of motion.

What are the benefits of stretching? Well, stretching can feel good, especially if your body is tight after just waking up in the morning. Stretching can also provide some mental benefit, give one a sense of accomplishment, and help in stress relief. Most yoga practitioners remark about how much better they feel after class than they did before. People who have spastic conditions (excessive muscle tightness) following a traumatic injury can achieve some positive results from stretching.

Is stretching really necessary? In my opinion, no. To date, there is not one properly conducted study that has conclusively shown that stretching prevents injury. Football and basketball players routinely stretch their hamstrings, yet hamstring injuries are quite common in both sports. Some of that is the result of the repetitive stress that is part of their sport, but it can also be the result of improper diet, hydration, and training techniques. The major misconception that most people have is that when you stretch, you are only stretching your muscles. In fact, you are also stretching your connective tissue, which are your tendons and ligaments. Tendons connect muscle to bone; ligaments connect bone to bone. While it's true that muscles do have an elastic property (they return to their original length after they are stretched, unless stretched too far), connective tissue does not have that same property. Once tendons and ligaments are stretched, they remain that way unless surgically repaired. Stretched connective tissue can render a joint unstable, which will increase the risk for injury. Muscles generate force to enable movement, while connective tissue works to stabilize joints. A greater range of motion may be desirable in some sports, but it comes with a price. Gymnasts are hyper flexible; it is part of the rigors of their sport to be able to do things most of the rest of us cannot. Unfortunately, this lends itself to both acute and overuse injuries in joints as a result of hyperflexibility. If you desire to be a competitive gymnast, this is a risk that one assumes when they decide to participate. For the rest of us, this is neither desirable nor necessary. It is also common to see people hold their breath when they stretch (perform Valsalva), which is dangerous. This can lead to increased blood pressure and it prevents venous return (which is the return of the blood to the right side of the heart). This should be avoided at all costs.

If you are a normal person with a reasonably active lifestyle, all you really need is a safe and functional range of motion to be able to perform everyday tasks. This can be accomplished by regular Total Results exercise. We are conscious of making sure that you utilize pain-free range of motion on each exercise in your routine, and we can make modifications in case you sustain an injury outside of our studio. The negative (or lowering) phase of a dynamic weight training exercise is what enhances flexibility, so that is why performing dynamic exercise is optimal. There is no need to stretch as part of a warm-up prior to a Total Results workout. The first couple of repetitions of each exercise serve as a more thorough warm-up than stretching or other nondescript activity. If you are adamant about stretching, make sure you do it at the end of an activity rather than before, or at least after you have thoroughly warmed your body up. You should never stretch a muscle when it is cold, and don't forget to breathe freely.

Stretching is largely unnecessary, and there are safer ways to relieve stress and feel good about yourself. The best way to enhance your flexibility and protect yourself against injury is to perform a Total Results workout once or twice per week. Don't be fooled by misinformation. Let us help you get going in the right direction. Get Total Results.

Posted May 05, 2020 by Tim Rankin