Stretching is something you hear a lot about within the fitness industry, but, should we stretch before exercise? Is it important enough that we should start doing it if we’re not already? And what type of stretching should we use – static or dynamic?? Well lets look a little deeper into it all ..
Unfortunately, like most things there’s no simple answer. Stretching is very important and is believed to reduce risk of injury, reduce tension caused by stress and increase our range of movement. Despite these benefits that are always discussed it is still widely argued whether stretching actually does reduce the risk of injury. Herbert (2002), reviewed two studies that both looked at stretching and reducing the risk of injury. The review revealed that there was no difference in injury risk whether stretching was performed before exercise or not.
Mchugh (2010), however, reviewed the same subject using seven other research papers. Three found absolutely no effect and four found some effect but not significantly. They therefore concluded that whilst stretching didn’t reduce the risk of injury in all studies, some evidence does still point towards pre exercises stretching reducing injury risk.
So with all this conflicting research which one is right? Well, this is where the type of stretching comes.
Static and Dynamic:
Static stretching is stretching a muscle and holding it at a lengthened state for a period of time; for example 10-15 secs. Where as dynamic stretching is the use of stretching through movement; for example high knee running. It is still stretching the muscles however it is not held in a lengthened state for very long.
Even though the research doesn’t show that stretching definitely reduces the risk, for the sake of a few minutes at the start of a workout I personally think there is a place for this. Think about it – you can’t train if you’re injured, so why not take every precaution?
So which type of stretching is best? In a nutshell dynamic stretching is much my preferred type to use before exercising. This is because Static stretching has been found to reduce performance up to 20% compared to dynamic stretching which doesn’t affect performance. Dynamic stretching still allows the increase in range of movement and increase in muscle temperature, whilst allowing the muscles to go through movement patterns that might be used during your workout, for example using body weight squats before doing some heavy weighted squats. This prepares not only the muscles but also the neuromuscular system for the exercise.
So there you have it. Stretching before a workout isn’t as important as everyone likes to think and still hasn’t ACTUALLY been proved to consistently reduce the risk of injury. It’s a very grey area whether it actually does reduce risk of injury, but is it really worth the risk?
My personal opinion is; if we can gain benefits from dynamic stretching without affecting performance as part of a pre exercise warm up, then surely its 5 minutes well spent!!