To stretch or not to stretch?

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Muscle strain, also known as a pulled muscle, is the most common type of sports injury. Many people stretch prior to beginning their exercise regimen to prevent such injury. Recently, there has been a shift in thought about the benefits of stretching prior to exercise. New research suggests that stretching pre-exercise does not provide protection from injuries and, in some cases, may cause harm. This has incited confusion about whether stretching before exercising is beneficial or detrimental to your health.

Let’s look at a few factors that may help us along on the path toward the truth. Stretching offers a variety of positive results for the body such as improving muscle length, circulation and decreasing muscle spasms while realigning the body. If stretching does all of this, how can it be harmful before a workout? By stretching, you increase the muscle’s length, allowing the joints and surrounding tissues to move more freely. Research shows that stretching prior to exercise weakens the muscle submitting the body to potential injury.  A sudden increase in range of motion without increasing muscle strength simultaneously makes them more vulnerable to injury. It’s like giving a Toyota a Ferrari engine without installing better brakes.  Shortened muscles may be a protective response to an underlying pathology such as, hypermobility of the joint(s) or even weakness of the muscle itself. By being in a shortened position, it protects the vulnerable area from potential injury.  It’s a primitive but efficient strategy. That is why stretching right before exercise may not be the most optimal time to do it.

So when should I stretch?

Performing a 30 second stretch (2-3 times) after physical activity is the most optimal time.  The muscles are warmed up and will respond better to being stretched (i.e. post-workout)

What can I do before exercise to prevent injury?

“Warming up” is a more effective way to prepare your body for physical activity

  • perform 5 minutes of light exercise
  • biking or brisk walking on the treadmill will do the trick

Here are a few basic stretches you can perform after your exercise routine...

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