The Importance and Timing of Stretching


The Importance and Timing of Stretching

 

Stretching has received a lot of negative attention recently: many authors in the health and fitness world have attached themselves to a few pieces of research that are critical of static stretching, and have mis-interpreted the literature. This article is a brief attempt to provide a full explanation of why you should stretch, when, and how it works.

How Does Stretching Work?

Recent evidence has pointed to the fact that muscles are not lengthened when you stretch them. This makes sense: you don’t want the muscles to lengthen too much during stretching as this can reduce their ability to contract, which is what provides muscular power. However, stretching allows the nervous system to relax more during the position and reduces the urge for the muscle to pull “against” the stretch.

To put it simply, stretching is all in the nerves and brain, rather than the muscle itself. When you stretch, you should focus on relaxing as much as possible to allow the nerves to relax too. This is going to make your stretching as effective as possible, allowing the muscles to become comfortable in difficult positions.

What’s up with Static Stretching?

Static stretching is the kind that you see gymnasts and dancers doing lots of: simply put yourself in a difficult position, where you feel the stretch, and focus on relaxing into the position. Recently, however, research has suggested that static stretching doesn’t cause the tissue change necessary to make huge progress. This has led many professionals to claim that it has no real benefits for the average gym-goer.

lady stretching hip side leg

The problem is that stretching before a workout is for exactly this reason: it is to get comfortable in difficult positions so that you are able to move better, and further, during your workout! The benefit of static stretching is that it allows you to reach good positions during exercise, and the exercise itself causes the tissue change!

Dynamic stretching is highly recommended before a workout. These are stretches or movements that put you into the actual positions you will be in during your fitness routine or workout.

Be sure to warm up before static stretches: stretching while warm is a great way to maximise your range of motion, optimise muscular recovery, reduce the risk of injury, and reach the best possible positions during your stretch.

When Should You Stretch?

As mentioned above, stretching is a neural phenomenon: it happens in the nervous system. This means that you should focus on stretching more often, not longer. This should include stretching before and after training, to improve performance during exercise and ensure proper “cool-down”.

Try and incorporate stretching and core exercises into your morning routine, as these will provide you with a great way of getting limber and feeling great in the morning, as well as combating stiffness and muscle tightness. If you can stretch in the morning, before bed, and before/after training, you’ll notice huge improvements in health, wellbeing, and muscle recovery over a short space of time.

stretching limber asian martial arts

Stretching isn’t the most glamorous part of fitness, but it can provide you with an amazing way of improving your health and recovery, while also being a genuinely relaxing pastime. It is very important in injury prevention as well. Structured approaches to stretching, such as yoga, can also provide a great way to spend your time on off-days, or socialise with like-minded people!

 

We highly recommend incorporating stretching into your daily routine to increase performance, clarity, recovery, and injury prevention.