A Bit of a Stretch

This makes stretching seem so enjoyable…

If you’ve heard it once,  you’ve heard it a thousand times.  Static stretching (no movement) before and after a workout will reduce soreness and prevent injuries.  If you have bought into this philosophy, I’m forced to tell you that you couldn’t be more wrong if you tried.  Static stretching before exercise is not only ineffective at injury reduction, but it is almost harmful to the muscles being stretched.  It is, however, beneficial for post-workout, which I will explain later.  First, I want to dispel the rumor that stretching is used to reduce soreness and prevent injury.  It does neither of the two.  Your muscles are going to be sore regardless of stretching, due to small micro-tears caused during exercise.  Research also indicates that those who do not stretch are no more likely to injure themselves as opposed to those who do stretch.

So, why in the hell do we stretch, then??  There is one main reason to stretch your muscles after a workout, and it revolves around neither preventing injury nor reducing soreness.  We stretch, simply enough, in order to increase flexibility.  I know it seems pretty straightforward and simple, but that is the main benefit of stretching.  With increased flexibility, however, there are multiple benefits that accompany.  First and foremost, you’re going to be able to go through increased range of motion on almost all exercises, particularly those involving the lower body.  Adding to that, you will be able to go through this increased range of motion without pain.  If you’ve ever tried to increase your range of motion with tight muscles, you know how painful and annoying it can be.  If you have tight hip muscles, not only will you not be able to get as low on a squat as you need to, but trying to do so will be painful.  With increased flexibility, you can increase that range of motion, and ultimately train muscles harder than you were previously capable of doing.  This will result, as we all know, in stronger muscles and improved performance.

Okay, you’ve gone over the issue of why we stretch in general.  Why, then, do we do it AFTER exercise??  It’s pretty simple, and you can literally feel it in your muscles if you pay attention.  When you start exercises, you feel tight.  Your muscles haven’t loosed up yet.  After exercise, however, your muscles are loose, and much more flexible.  If you were to compare the two situations, your muscles before a workout would be similar to a guitar string, while afterward they would be more like a rubber band (not to that extent, of course).  You see the difference???  It is much easier to pull a rubber band than it is to pull on a guitar string.  When you do pull on a tight muscle, just like a guitar string, it’s very likely that it will snap or tear.  That is the case when you stretch cold, stiff muscles.  They are MUCH more susceptible to injury.  Pulling on the rubber band, however, is much more effective.  The loose, warm muscles following exercise are not only safer to stretch, but much more receptive to stretching, as well.

So, stretching increases flexibility.  DUH.  We all know that.  The timing and execution of stretching, however, are very important to get the maximum benefits of increased strength and improved performance.

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