There’s a lot of misinformation when it comes to the world of stretching. Much of this is just outdated, and some of it is pure hearsay. Whether you’re a budding athlete in Footscray, casual boot camp participant in Port Melbourne, completing a fitness instructor course in Melbourne or the rest of the country, read below for the latest, evidence-based approach to stretching.
Despite what many of us think, stretching is less about injury prevention or alleviating muscle soreness. According to research, its main function is to increase flexibility. After you complete 30 secs round, the range of motion (ROM) will be increased for up to 15 minutes. A full 24 hours later, you’ll basically be back where you started. So if you are looking to become more flexible in the longer term, today’s exercise scientists are suggesting that doing so is mostly psychological. In other words, your ability to tolerate the uncomfortable sensation of a deep stretch. Your muscles are not getting ‘longer’!
But I’m Old!
Not an excuse anymore, sorry! Although we tend to blame the aging process on a lot of health-related issues, loss of flexibility is not one that’s been proved accurate. Instead, decreases in ROM or stiffness are due to less movement. This means that loss of elasticity is due to lifestyle rather than a natural consequence of becoming older.
If you hold static stretches as part of your warm-up, you’re not using your exercise time wisely! There are oodles of studies that demonstrate that these do not contribute to the prevention of injury. In other words, stretching the quads before squats won’t mean you’ll avoid injury or sore muscles the next day. These outcomes are more likely to be associated with the incorrect form (including load), and working to volitional fatigue, respectively. So what can you do?
Also known as active stretching, you’ll want to include these in your warmup. The simplest way to understand this approach is to think of stretches that are performed in motion. The focus of this type of movement is to activate muscles, thus introducing your body to what it will be doing over the course of your workout. Other benefits include a (temporary) increase in ROM and improved proprioception. This means better body awareness. For many professional athletes, this is how they get ‘in the zone,’ as you encourage your body during warm up to head toward its optimal performance.
So… how do I stretch?
In brief – regularly! The good news is, any stretching, anytime, at any age will benefit, and it is never too late to start. It doesn’t have to be a long session – a few minutes here and there all day has been shown to deliver the same benefits. It’s the total daily stretch time that should be of concern to you. The key to improving your flexibility is to do it often, learn some self-myofascial release techniques and hold 30 secs for optimal results.