Bournemouth physiotherapist discusses the latest research
Stretching doesn’t really work!
Yay! Free up your time and do something more useful!
Many people stretch regularly and it sometimes feels like a good thing to do, like first thing in the morning….if so, do it!
Sometimes it is important temporarily post injury if your physiotherapist instructs you to do so to recover from an injury
But if you are stretching because you think you “should” as a routine- think again!
Some people stretch because they have been told to but we all know those who have stretched regularly for 20 years and still are no more flexible than when they started!
There are plentiful volumes of scientific research that demonstrate that the typical stretching routine most people do at the gym and even most athletes do is mostly a complete waste of time for commonly identified goals.
There is simply no evidence that it:
- prevents injury
- prevents muscle soreness
- warms you up
- enhances performance
Stretching does more harm than good. This does not just apply to static stretching, but also to the hold-contract-relax varieties as well. A huge 2011 review of all the research found there was no significant effect of stretching and even some evidence of harm. Kay et al Effect of acute static stretch on maximal muscle performance: A Systematic Review. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2011. Pub Med #21659901
You simply cannot warm your muscles up by stretching them. This is like pulling a raw steak apart excepting it to cook. Not going to happen!
The best warm up is to do a gentler version of the activity you are about to do eg walking before you run. Putting your joints through the movements first, increasing body awareness and coordination. Research has shown this is effective in preventing injury. Soligard et al. Compliance with a comprehensive warm up programme to prevent injuries in youth football. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2010. Pub Med #20551159 (These warm ups did not include stretching!).
A large 2011 study in Vancouver looked at an unusually large group of 2700 runners and pre run stretching and found no significant difference in injury rates between the stretchers and non stretchers.
Common injuries like and ankle sprain or twisted knee have very little to do with muscle length and more to do with muscle and neurological awareness.
4 much better uses of your time to prevent injury are:
Start slow, create metabolic activity, heat causes changes in connective tissue that makes them more pliable. This is the number one activity that will prevent injury.
Most injuries are from poor timing issues and the muscles responding too slowly to traumatic events or uneven ground. Coordination can be practised and improved. Do one leg balance work, hopping, side to side, practice change of direction drills, catching ball on one leg and off road running to change your environment and challenge the alertness of your muscles.
Correct biomechanics will also help your body to be more coordinated and prevent injury. If you run, gait analysis will help you position your body so you are not using the wrong muscles and running in an inefficient way which leads to fatigue and ultimately, injury.
Rigid, stiff muscles are more likely to give you injuries. Relaxed muscles take practice- But relaxation is a mental and emotional thing, NOT a static stretching thing. Anyone who has done martial arts, develops the art of relaxed muscles giving superior strength and speed. So too, when you are running(or doing any sport), practice using minimal energy. Become aware of your body, and gradually reduce the effort you are using. Gait analysis will help you use the correct muscles and will only take you 4-6 weeks of practice to see great changes.
Great skill comes through relaxation.
Move your joints through their comfortable range of motion. Use it or lose it.
Keep moving through full range rather than stretching.
Yes stretching will make you more flexible- but why do you need to be more flexible? Unless you need it for a certain task like auditioning for Cirque de Soleil or the Olympic gymnastic team. To get to this level anyway requires hours and hours of intense stretching that would make most of us cry. Is it worth it to you and me to do 4 hours stretching a day?
And by the way, this extra flexibility does not mean these athletes are healthier. At our Bournemouth physiotherapy clinic, we treat many people in the clinic for problems related to being too flexible- either throughout genetic hyper mobility or elite ballerinas. Too much flexibility can create problems of its own.
Stretching does not enhance performance (and definitely does not make you sprint faster)
Research has shown that pre-exercise stretching may reduce muscle strength. A 2009 study tested athletes sprinting times with and without a stretching regimen between sprints. Beckett et al. Effects of static stretching on repeated sprint and change of direction performance. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2009. The results were clear and consistent and the sprinting times were slower following static stretching.
There is no real need to prescribe separate stretching exercises IF logically structured training sessions takes each joint throughout its full range of static and dynamic motion. If in doubt, grab one of our personal trainers for advice. Strengthen your body through its full range of motion is key.
Stretching is not completely useless and may work for some clear and specific goals however most people stretch aimlessly and ineffectively and would be better spent using their time doing a mobility routine, and warm up.
By the way some of the major muscle groups are unstretchable! Such as:
* the tibialis muscle-the shin muscle-a common culprit in shin splints. There simply is no effective stretch for it! Instead the best results for recurrent shin splints are gained through learning how to run properly Book a gait analysis to learn and understand good biomechanics….this is how we reduce over activity in this muscle group- no need for stretching.
* the ITB(not strictly a muscle)- There is also no effective stretch for this culprit. For best results to deal with nasty ITB issues, grab a gait analysis to correct poor biomechanics and reduce over dependency on this muscle. Also grab yourself a quality sports massage if your ITB is full of trigger points and causing knee pain.
* the mighty quadriceps which surely you think you can stretch effectively. Nope! You are actually only stretching 10-15% of the muscle when you do the standard stretch. Pretty pointless really….
So, just how great will it be to NOT add to your New Years Goals list “I must stretch more”?
More time for other things!
Any questions or comments, please get in touch:
Phone 01202 720 300