Quote: “In order to be wealthy, you must be healthy”
Should I stretch before my exercise/sport to prevent injury?
This topic may open a Pandora's box with further questions so for the relevance to this newsletter I will discuss this as succinctly as possible in hopes of illustrating the proper information. In fact static (slow) stretching immediately before some activities can actually increase one's chance for injury and decrease performance (yes you did read correctly, that is what years of the research has stated). Decreased performance is defined here as power output ex. jumping, sprinting and anything requiring the explosiveness system. The exact mechanism or reason remains unclear but increased joint laxity which can reduce a muscles ability to absorb (like a sponge) energy is theorized as one way. Another is decreased tissue stiffness or alterations slowing down the messengers to the nervous system and muscular system.
Stretching can be done in a few different ways: Static stretching is taking a muscle to the point of tension and holding it for a minimum of 15-20 seconds. Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching is stretching a muscle while a partner holds the muscle applying force. Active stretching is moving the muscles and joint into a full range while moving. Dynamic stretching uses the force or weight of the body to take it through a full range like walking lunges or medicine ball rotations (basically moving the body into and out of positions). This type “dynamic” stretching has been shown to be more injury preventive before activity/exercise than static stretching and not affect power/speed performances. Although static and PNF stretching after exercise/activity and overall in ones regimen can improve joint range, soft tissue mobility (esp. around arthritic joints) posture, walking/running gait. Long term benefits of stretching can and will decrease your chance for injury if you have muscle tightness in areas of your body. However, this can not be rectified immediately before your sport, activity/exercise, this approach is a long term continuous protocol. Many people believe or have been conditioned from years of practice that static stretching (holding a stretch for a period of 15-30sec) is a way to reduce injury or prevent injury immediately before an activity/exercise. This simply is just not the case and analyses over the years and hundreds of studies validate just that.
A properly designed stretching program can be imperative for normal human function especially with today's technology (click here for a past newsletter that elaborates more on this) http://www.pbpfit.com/members/topic24.htm how it puts our bodies in a seated/shortened position for long periods of time. For example, if a muscle is in a constant shorten state like your hip flexors (illipsoas) from sitting this will in turn effect proper joint motion of the ankle, knee, hip and lumbar spine. In turn this will alter movement mechanics of the body because of newly formed elastin (elastin tissue connects to ligaments) connective tissues from other muscles compensating for the shortened muscles. Another misunderstanding is stretching will prevent muscle soreness. When one works out, the muscle soreness comes form microscopic tears/or tissue damage from the exercise. Stretching after or before can not prevent this from occurring. Almost all can benefit from stretching for good posture, alignment and gait by helping to alleviate the tight musculature in the body. On the contrary, very few individuals actually can be too flexible and because of too much flexibility in their joints, muscles and surrounding tissues can be hyper-mobile and stretching would be contraindicated. However, these individuals are fewer than many. Each person should be analyzed on a case by case basis to see if one needs or will benefit from a proper stretching routine. Additionally stretching can be a nice cool down to bring the body back to a normal state.
So what is the bottom line should I stretch or not stretch? The question should be what is the outcome you hope to achieve from a stretch/stretching routine? If helping with proper body alignment, joint range of motion, posture, unraveling existing tight musculature of the body which can pull on one's skeletal system wrecking havoc daily on your body than yes a specific or general stretching program can and will be beneficial. If you are performing static stretching immediately before a game, event or exercise hoping it will prevent injury, you may be displeased with the results. Performing dynamic stretching and a general (anything to warm up the body walking, light jog etc.) into a specific warm up (performing lighter or easier weight/work of the exact exercise or modality before going at 100%) will yield far more preventive results as opposed to slow static stretches before your activity.
MS & BS Exercise Science and Health promotion,
CSCS & NASM- CFT
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