Stretching guidelines, how and when it is right to do it
People tend to consider stretching as a traditional component of training sessions, which is performed at the end of the workout to relax the muscle. Actually, the American College of Sports Medicine describes it as being a real component of health, not only that of training. With regular practice an increase in joint ROM (range of motion) and flexibility is apparent, and it appears to contribute in reducing or preventing muscle soreness. Literature shows that tight muscles can contribute to generate back pain or to make simple every-day tasks difficult to perform. Generally, excessive tension is commonly found in the hamstrings, hip flexors, calves and pectorals. Static stretching, can provide multiple benefits if performed at least two days per week or also daily in case of important stiffness. Stretching positions should be reached slowly, held for 15-30 seconds and repeated 3-5 times/session, without feeling pain.
Stretching and performance
Stretching effects on physical performance are also being investigated, in order to analyze if its practice during the warm-up is useful or damaging. Some studies show that a prolonged static stretching position (>60 seconds), prior to performance, can lead to a reduction in performance, especially when high-speed and explosive or reactive forces are requested. On the contrary, short-duration static stretches (<30 seconds) do not reduce these kinds of performances. Differently, dynamic stretching, which involves controlled movement through the active ROM for a joint, seems to be able to facilitate power, sprint and jump tasks. In fact, dynamic stretching improves muscular performance because it provokes an increase in the muscle and body temperatures and an enhancement of the neuromuscular function. For these reasons, it appears that dynamic stretching is preferable to static stretching during the warm-up period.
Stretching and injuries
Another important feature is that of the risk of injuries. Overall, stretching seems to be ineffective in the reduction of the risk of sport injury. Potential causes of this fact are the alteration of some mechanisms that normally protect structures involved in motion. In fact, stretching would generate a reduction in the sensitivity of muscles, tendons, joint receptors and nociceptors, which increases to risk of injury. However, additional research should be done in order to confirm this discovery.
Should you stretch before, during or after exercise?
Furthermore, stretching can always be performed during post-exercise and cool-down activities, however, there are some restrictions when performing it prior to sporting activities. In fact, the optimal warm-up should be composed of a submaximal intensity aerobic activity followed by large amplitude of dynamic stretching, completed with specific dynamic sport gestures, thus, static stretching should be avoided before the exercise session.
In conclusion, stretching exercises are widely recommended to increase ROM and flexibility, considering that flexibility is fundamental for common daily motor tasks.
- Rubini EC1, Costa AL, Gomes PS. The effects of stretching on strength performance. Sports Med. 2007;37(3):213-24.
- Behm DG1, Chaouachi A. A review of the acute effects of static and dynamic stretching on performance. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2011 Nov;111(11):2633-51. doi: 10.1007/s00421-011-1879-2. Epub 2011 Mar 4.
- Simic L1, Sarabon N, Markovic G. Does pre-exercise static stretching inhibit maximal muscular performance? A meta-analytical review. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2013 Mar;23(2):131-48. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0838.2012.01444.x. Epub 2012 Feb 8.