We all know we should stretch, but far too many of us overlook this and choose to get on with the 'fun stuff' instead – the exercise or the sports or the free running. Perhaps though part of the problem is that we are not educated quite enough on the reasons we should be stretching – and perhaps a full list of all the reasons we should be doing it could help encourage us to be more vigilant. Here we will look at a selection of the reasons it's important to stretch.
It Improves Muscle Development
If you're doing a workout with the hope of building muscle then stretching is very important as it enables you to move through the full range of movement. This then results in your building full and long muscles instead of them becoming stunted and short.
It Increases Range of Motion
Not only does stretching increase the range of motion for someone lifting weights while they're doing it, it also helps to increase range of motion and flexibility in general. This then means that you will be more likely to perform things such as the splits or high kicks. It's highly useful in a range of different athletic and sporting events and many athletes practice stretching for this reason.
It Reduces Injury
Stretching reduces the chance of injury by gradually elongating the muscle. If you're more flexible then that will mean that you don't pull or tear a muscle if you are to slip or trip as your body is capable of reaching that position. In the short term it also helps to limber up the muscle and tendon and thereby prevent a pulled muscle or tendon.
It Warms You Up
Stretching can be used as a way to warm up the muscles and it will encourage the flow of blood. This then provides the muscles with an oxygen supply as well as nutrients in order to help them to keep going.
It Improve Posture
Stretching can also help you to improve your posture and particularly stretching the back. It may also be useful for alleviating pain and this is why it is commonly used as a part of yoga and Pilates.
Drawbacks of Stretching
Despite all of its touted benefits however and statistics such as '50% of sports injuries could have been prevented with stretching' – stretching does have its limits. For instance it is widely believed that stretching can help to prevent delayed onset muscle soreness (the 'burn' you get the next day after working out or strenuous muscle activity). Thus many athletes and bodybuilders will stretch following a gym session under the belief that it will prevent them from developing pain – however this is in fact incorrect and it will have no positive (or negative) impact on this pain.
Likewise it is important to recognize that everything needs to be moderated – and too much stretching can be a bad thing. Some sports for instance such as sprinting may actually benefit from the increased elasticity that comes from not stretching too much. Further over-stretching to the point where it causes pain can actually damage joints and muscle thereby hampering performance both in the long term and the short term.
At the same time further studies have shed doubt on whether or not stretching can prevent injury for runners at all – and in one recent survey of 2,729 runners there was found to be no significant benefit of stretching before running. Further – it has been suggested that during the process of stretching the athlete only learns to ignore and overcome the pain associated with stretching rather – which could in fact lead to injury. It was noted however that those who already do stretch should not stop stretching or they might then cause injury.
So the jury is out – and it may well be that stretching isn't quite the crucial crux of an athlete's pre-game that we thought it was. However that said it still has many other benefits in terms of muscle development, posture and flexibility and conventional wisdom still says it's a good idea. You have all the information – so now it's time to find out what works best for you.