Everyone who makes an effort to exercise has heard fitness enthusiasts herald the benefits of stretching before and after working out. But is it really vital to stretch first?
“Recent research has shown that static stretching — holding onto a muscle in an elongated, fixed position — could be detrimental to performance,” said Monica Schick, wellness director at the Francis Family YMCA in Temperance.
“This is contrary to the gym days of the ’70s, ’ 80s, and ’ 90s where everybody stretched before a workout. Your teacher said, ‘Hold your toes for 15 seconds.’ Now we know that it could decrease production in the muscle and actually increases the risk of injury.”
The issue has been discussed in the scientific community for several years because of findings from such groups as the American College of Sports Medicine and the Journal of Strength and Conditioning.
Note, for example, these remarks published in a February, 2012, article on the UF Sports Performance Center Web site: “The benefits of stretching include improving the range of motion and reducing the risk of injury. Though there is certainly evidence that supports these benefits, some show that static stretching prior to exercise may actually impair performance by reducing muscle force production. In fact, the current American College of Sports Medicine’s (ACSM) guidelines recommend the removal of static stretching from a warm-up routine.”
And as is the case in most of these types of controversial issues, not all fitness pros and institutions agree with that position.
The Web site further states: “Despite ACSM’s call for the removal of pre-exercise stretching, it appears that static stretching may be used as part of a warm-up prior to exercise requiring strength, power, or speed-related tasks. The duration of stretch for a particular muscle group should not exceed 45 seconds if exercise performance is a concern.”
Mrs. Schick said that while warming up is typically the most important aspect of exercise, there are two types of warmups.
“The first is the general warm-up. If you are at a gym, hop on the treadmill or elliptical trainers for five or 10 minutes,” she said. “And the second type is a specific warm-up, that takes you through the motions of your exercise. So if you are a runner, do high knees, … a general warm up is fine; just enough to break a sweat.”
Mrs. Schick’s view is that stretching could put a person at risk of injury. Moreover, research involving athletes who stretch first has shown that they don’t perform quite as well because of the lengthened state of the muscle, she said.
“Static stretching is best done after your workout,” she added. “Hold your muscle for 15 to 30 seconds for each muscle group. That flexibility is one of the components of complete fitness. Total fitness includes cardiovascular health, strength, and flexibility, and it’s important to be balanced in all three.”
Dr. Matthew Fourman, medical director of the St. Vincent Mercy weight management center and a certified strength trainer, agrees that stretching “won’t make you run a faster mile or swim faster. It really comes down to what your fitness goals are. Any stretching before a workout can decrease performance. If you are stretching, you are tearing muscle tissue.”
Also taking note of the difference in active and passive stretching, Dr. Fourman said active stretching, “moving around, loosening up, that’s good before a workout and will help avoid post workout soreness.”
“If you’re doing a lot of passive [stretching] before a workout, it can impair your performance,” he added. “If your goal is to improve your bench press, then a lot of stretching before is not a good thing. If your goal is to improve overall fitness, then improving over all fitness by stretching is valuable.”
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