Stretching before and after exercise has been a part of warm-up and cool-down routines for decades. Although, stretching has been a contentious area in recent years due, to the inconclusive research that it prevents injuries when performed before exercise.
In this blog we will explore the proposed benefits of stretching as well as the difference between dynamic and static stretching, providing some examples of each stretch.
Static stretching is a common method of stretching where the muscle is placed on stretch by placing the attached joint at its end-range. This has the effect of increasing joint range of motion which has been proposed to improve performance by decreasing resistance during movement. The mechanism in which how this occurs is commonly considered to be due to change in the tolerance of the muscle to stretch, as opposed to changes in the length of the muscle. However, recent findings suggest that in performance measures of running, power, agility and balance, static stretching could impair, rather than improve performance due to its potentially adverse effect on muscle contraction.
Despite the evidence against static stretching before performance, it still has a role in long-term increases in joint range of motion. This is a common goal in injury rehabilitation and may be desired for improvements in biomechanics, posture and muscle tone or for activities specifically requiring increased flexibility, such as gymnastics, martial arts, synchronised swimming or dance. Therefore, the research suggests, if implicated, employing static stretching as a separate training program, as opposed to before ex
ercise due to its potential impairments on performance.
Static stretching has also been implemented in the past as a means to reduce muscle soreness after exercise, based on the theory that stretching can assist to restore blood flow to reduce spasm and its associated soreness. Studies have, however, since refuted this, suggesting stretching restricts blood flow to the muscle and that stretching does not have a significant effect on muscle soreness. Although it is evident more research needs to be done in this area.
Hip Flexor Stretch
Dynamic stretching involves stretching the muscle by facilitating movement throughout the joint range. This type of stretching has recently increased in popularity due to the rise of evidence against static stretching before exercise. The evidence largely acknowledges dynamic stretching as having a positive effect on performance, particularly of power-related movements including jumping and sprinting. This makes dynamic stretching more relevant for populations such as basketballers or runners over static stretching.
The positive effects of dynamic stretching are largely in part to the resemblance of dynamic stretching with sport-specific movements required in the activity/exercise. The mechanisms of which this is achieved is thought to include increased body temperature and stimulation of the nervous system facilitating increased post-stretching muscle contraction.
Hip Flexor Stretch
Overall, in regard to stretching before exercise, dynamic stretching appears to present with fewer potential disadvantages to that of static stretching. Studies are yet to conclusively find a significant benefit of stretching after exercise for muscle recovery/soreness. When considering both dynamic and static stretching, the specific task at hand must be considered and the stretches tailored accordingly. The full extent of the effect of stretching is the subject of ongoing research.
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