WHEN TO STRETCH, OR NOT TO STRETCH…
By Christine Doblar
Recommendations to stretch, or not stretch, have changed from year to year and continue to vary greatly between experts. Stretching has long been promoted as an essential part of a fitness program to decrease the risk of injury, prevent soreness and improve performance. As researchers continue to look at the benefits and pitfalls of stretching, how do we proceed? Let’s break this down.
First of all, let’s get our terminology clarified. Flexibility refers to the maximum joint range of motion that can be achieved without injury. It is mostly genetic, so that you are either born flexible or you are born tight. Stretching is the process of trying to lengthen muscle and soft tissue to increase flexibility. Dynamic flexibility is a warmup to stimulate both your nervous system and muscles to prepare for an upcoming activity. It moves muscles and joints repetitively within your existing range of motion. It will help to maximize your inherent mobility. It should be specific to the exercise or sport that you’re going to play. Static stretching involves holding a muscle in a set position for 20-30 seconds. It decreases neural stimulation to muscles and enhances relaxation. Static stretching is usually non- sports specific and focuses on fixed muscle groups, instead of movement. Stability is a vital measure in injury prevention research. Stability is the ability to maintain a position in the best mechanical advantage for the body. Flexibility beyond the range needed to perform an activity moves you away from stability and can actually lead to injury. In yet another instance, we realize that “more is not always better.”
So, what the heck should we do?? Before your workout, your time is better spent warming up with dynamic stretching. It is important for you to have the functional range of motion needed to perform your specific activity. Functional range is more important that flexibility. Emphasize full-body movements that can be performed with just your body weight. Some examples include: butt kicks, walking with high knees, lunges, yoga series, neck and shoulder rolls, jumping jacks, and many more. Post activity, I recommend a custom routine, thoughtfully done, that supports recovery and muscle balance. Specific use of a foam roll can help release tension in muscles and soft tissue, bring circulation to targeted areas for nutrition and waste removal, and will reset your brain for improved mobility. The best program for you should be customized to YOU. Assess your body and your sport and make sure you stretch (and strengthen) in order to reduce muscle imbalances. Consult a professional for help in determining the needs of your unique anatomy. Find and maintain your Perfect Balance!