Covered in this blog
- The scientific research that suggests stretching has no benefits on athletic performance
- Why you should stretch, despite there being no athletic gains
- What health benefits stretching actually brings
- Stretching best practises
The science of stretching for athletic performance
A study conducted by Jamie Donkin at the California State University in Sacramento in 2012 suggested, like many others, that stretching as part of a pre-training routine had no positive nor negative effects on the cyclist involved in the trial. In fact, most experts are fairly agreed in recommending to avoid static stretching (where the stretch is held, eg hamstring pull) prior to working out, favouring dynamic stretching (where the stretch is part of a movement, eg squat) if anything at all. For most, warming up is simply a gradual increase in intensity.
A review paper published in the journal ‘Research in Sports Medicine’ suggested that stretching ‘poses no significant advantage to endurance runners’ nor will it help reduce Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) or reduce injury risk. In fact many studies suggest that elite runners are actually less flexible than recreational.
Essentially, the more you research the benefits of stretching for athletes, the more you will find no evidence to suggest stretching has any benefits at all, and, in some cases, it can actually be detrimental to athletic performance.
No stretching then?
Well no, you might consider to keep stretching. Here’s why…
You have a life outside of your chosen sport and, unless you are a professional sportsperson, you might need to have functional mobility in some manner.
What is it that you are actually stretching?
More recent research, like this blog on Breaking Muscle, is pointing to us actually stretching our minds; more specifically our nervous system. This makes a great deal of sense if you consider that a muscle is actually fixed between two points and that we would have significant health concerns if we over stretched that muscle.
In some ways this also correlates with the Central Governor theory that was proposed by either Tim Noakes in 1997 or by Archibald Hill in 1924. We are limited, for good reason, by our minds.
Stretching best practices
- First of all, give up ‘no pain, no gain’, this might be placing your body under far too much stress. You aren’t looking for a lot of flexibility, you are simply looking to maintain your body; keeping yourself healthy and mobile
- Focus on stretching while warm, not before exercise and not when cold. If you join a yoga or pilates class, consider a brief warm-up to prepare your body
- Remember that the goal isn’t to be super flexible, but functional. Stretching is maintenance and you shouldn’t judge gains by how bendy you are, but more how you feel
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