Ever since you took your first gym class, you've probably associated stretching with exercise — and you might feel guilty if you skip stretching after hitting the gym. Good news, though: Long-standing research suggests that the benefits of stretching are inconclusive at best, so consider stretching optional.
Insufficient evidence links stretching and injury prevention
In 2004, a group of researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a comprehensive view of stretching studies. They concluded that there was insufficient evidence to either endorse or discourage stretching before or after exercise as a means of injury prevention in competitive athletes.
The researchers also found that the studies associating stretching with injury prevention also included warm-ups before activity began, so it would be impossible to separate the effects of the warm-ups from the stretching.
So should you stop stretching altogether?
You might find yourself wondering why you should bother stretching at all if it doesn't prevent injury — or why the American College of Sports Medicine still recommends that people stretch each of the major muscle groups at least two times a week. The answer is flexibility. Staying flexible will help you maintain your range of motion, making it easier to complete everyday activities, such as reaching for something on a high shelf or bending over to pick up an object.
If you have a desk job, stretching can also help you reverse the effects of long-term sitting, which can result in back pain and shortened, tightened hip and hamstring muscles.
Plus, many people find stretching relaxing and a good way to cool down after a workout. If stretching helps you relieve stress, keep doing it.
Tips for stretching routines
If you decide to make stretching part of your fitness regimen, keep the following tips in mind:
- Don't stretch cold muscles. Always warm up before stretching; try some jumping jacks, running in place or low-intensity biking. Five to 10 minutes of moderate activity should be a sufficient warm-up. Better yet: Stretch after your workout.
- Focus on the four muscle groups. The American College of Sports Medicine identifies the following muscle groups as the most likely to be tight: hamstrings, hip flexors, calves and chest muscles. The Mayo Clinic website and WebMD.com offer ideas for stretching these muscle groups at www.mayoclinic.com/health/stretching/SM00043 and www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/guide/how-to-stretch.
- Don't bounce while you stretch. Instead, hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds. Bouncing while you stretch can cause tiny muscle tears that ultimately turn into scar tissue, leaving your muscle even tighter than it was before.
- Separate good tension from pain. If a stretch hurts, you've gone too far.
This article is presented by Perkins Motors in Colorado Springs, Colorado