The Truth about Stretching

Facts About Stretching

Facts About Stretching

For decades, the assumption that athletes should warm up by holding a pose for 20 to 30 seconds – known as static stretching – remained virtually unchallenged. At gyms all over the country, qualified exercise instructors still include stretching as a key component of group warm-ups.

Conventional wisdom dictates that stretching is essential to help prevent injury and improve performance. Yet recent studies have found that, far from priming muscles for a workout, static stretching actually weakens them. While traditional warm-ups may increase your tolerance for the discomfort of a stretch, they are actually detrimental to performance in many sports.

Wasting Energy on Stretches

Although flexibility is essential for some athletes, such as hurdlers, swimmers and gymnasts, researchers now believe that for many other sporting activities, there is no benefit to being limber. In fact, flexibility might be detrimental to some.

Distance runners in particular should avoid static stretching like the plague. In a recent study by the Lenox Hill Hospital Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma in Manhattan, researchers tested 100 runners for flexibility. The most limber amongst the group spend between 10 and 12 percent more energy just trying to keep pace with the less flexible runners. So, the most efficient runners were actually the stiffest.

In another study conducted by the University of Nevada, athletes generated less power from their legs after static stretching than they did after not stretching at all. Similar studies show that static stretching can weaken muscle strength by up to 30 percent. Stretching appears to waste energy and weaken athletes.

Making Sense of Nonsense

So why do athletes keep stretching if it’s wrecking their workouts? Well, many mistakenly believe the old myths about stretching – and to many people, it’s so thoroughly ingrained in their workout routines that they can’t imagine going without it. Trainers have been stretching the truth about flexibility so long that it’s hard to change people’s minds.

For others, stretching just feels good. Yoga is a great way to relax while improving strength and flexibility. Although increasing your range of movement may be over-rated, the psychological benefits of yoga and similar activities, such as Pilates, could be worth working up a sweat.

The truth is that stretching is an exercise in its own right that requires a dynamic warm up first. Stretching a cold body is just as bad as starting any exercise with cold muscles.

The Real Reason for Stretching

Advances in technology and the trend towards globalization have accelerated the pace of day-to-day life to a breakneck speed. In a 24-7 world, where multitasking and constant interruptions from cell phones have become the expectation rather than the exception, holding a pose in silence offers a rare opportunity for reflection – and to experience a little peace and quiet.

Additionally, most yoga-style workouts incorporate breathing exercises and techniques for improving posture. Time and again, studies show that controlled breathing is an effective way to reduce anxiety. According to the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Center on Aging Studies, poor breathing habits can deplete energy and have a negative effect on mood.

How to Warm Up, Stretching or Not

So, if you need some time for relaxation, a warm up before yoga or Pilates is the way to do it. If you’re looking for a better workout and fewer injuries, a warm up is the right way to go. Choose warm up exercises that include cardiovascular activity with dynamic stretching. Move through the range of motions used during the sport you are starting. This will loosen muscles and tendons while increasing body heat and blood flow. Warm muscles and dilated blood vessels use oxygen more effectively, letting the body access stored muscle fuel more efficiently.

For a warm-up that actually works, begin by raising your body’s temperature with five to 10 minutes of light aerobic activity, such as gentle jogging, then progress to dynamic stretching only if you enjoy stretching and if your particular sport benefits from flexibility. By replacing your static stretching routine with a combination of gradual cardiovascular progression and dynamic stretching, you will reduce the chances of injury – and burn more calories to boot.

 

Truthfully, I always hated cold stretching. A stretch after a workout always felt better…What approach have you always used for warming up? Will this information change the way you workout?

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