I was once told to stretch before my activity, and then i heard it is a must to stretch after. I used to think i was good for me, but now heard it might not... but really what should i do ?!?
And why do i even stretch ? Because it feels good, because it’s part of our pre-workout routine, because a muscle is stiff and we think stretching will fix it. But most of what we know about stretching are based on wishful thinking and outdated science. We’re stretching for all the wrong reasons.
Who never heard of the old school technique of static stretching before a soccer game? Static stretching being where you sit, lie or stand and hold stretches for 20-30 seconds each. It was always part of our phys-ed class and the teacher was telling us the importance of stretching the muscle to prevent injuries…the time has change people!
There is a lot of research now to show that this type of static stretching prior to exercise does not reduce your injury risk, including several big systematic reviews (a high level of scientific evidence) that all show that static stretching as part of warm up does not reduce your risk of injury.
Static Stretching has also been shown to reduce peak power and force output in the muscle stretched. What this means is that after static stretching, your muscle is not able to produce quite as much force (strength) as it could prior to stretching. Stretching robs your power !!
Studies show a 2% to 7% reduced strength and short lasting after a stretching session, 15-30 min. It is important to know the fact so let’s not panic, stretching before an activity will not significantly reduce your power nor will it make a difference on your next day activity.
So does it mean i should never stretch before an activity ? Well… NO!
The current best practice recommendation for warm up prior to exercise is NOT to perform static stretches, but instead perform dynamic warm up designed to prepare your body for the exercise to come. This should include things like large amplitude, controlled dynamic movements (such as leg swings), activities to gradually increase blood flow to the areas needed for exercise and activation/preparatory movements relevant to the activity.
Static stretching is only one type of intervention, so it doesn’t mean all stretches are bad. You can do PNF(Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation), where we use muscle contraction and relaxation to affect muscle lengthening, joint mobilization, ballistic stretches, and self myofascial release (foam roller, spiky ball etc).
The nervous system controls our flexibility much more than we thought. Part of the limits of our flexibility is how much our nerves “put the brakes on” to protect our tissues from damage by excessive length or tension. Neurodynamic testing can be done to evaluate if the nerve is the structure actually blocking your flexibility.
Once again, your physiotherapist is well trained to guide you through the proper warm-up/stretching/technique to use according to your own condition.