To stretch or not to stretch? (Part 1)

Stretching is thought to reduce the likelihood of injuries and many assume that stretching is necessary component of a workout.

By YONATAN KAPLAN
February 10, 2011 06:40
2 minute read.
Yonatan Kaplan

Yonatan Kaplan headshot. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Everyone knows that you are supposed to stretch before you work out.

Stretching is thought to reduce the likelihood of injuries and many assume that stretching is a necessary component of a workout.

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People are always told that they mustn’t forget to stretch, lest they suffer from muscle strain and a great deal of pain, before engaging in physical activity.

The question is, is stretching really helping our bodies or is this just a myth that desperately needs revision? Many assume that stretching leads to a reduction of injuries, but before we can answer this question, we need to discuss what stretching is.

A common mistake people make is assuming that stretching is a type of warming up or even that stretching itself is warming up! Stretching and warming up are two different physical activities, with different purposes, goals and outcomes.

As mentioned in the previous article on warming up, its purpose is to increase your body and muscle temperature by slowing increasing your heart rate and breathing rate.

This increases the flow of oxygen and nutrients to your muscles, preparing them for hard, physical work.



This is something that should be done before stretching. Warming up will in fact increase the range of motion possible while stretching.

Stretching is a physical activity where a muscle is lengthened in order to increase its flexibility.

This leads to greater control of one’s muscles, which allows for a greater range of motion.

Stretching and warming up are therefore two different physical activities, with two different purposes and two different goals.

There are several forms of stretching.

Ballistic stretching This involves repeating certain bouncing movements over and over again to force the muscle beyond its normal range of motion.

An example of this would be bouncing down and then trying to touch your toes.

Static stretching This involves stretching the muscle and holding it in place for a certain period of time.

An example of this would be extending out your arms and holding them in position.

Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching This alternates between muscle contracting and muscle stretching.

An example would be stretching your leg and then contracting it for a few seconds.

As with any other type of exercise, double-check with your doctor, physiotherapist, or personal trainer before attempting any of these stretches.

The examples are given only so that you will have some background on the issue.


There is research that supports the claim that stretching is effective at reducing injuries. It is maintained that stretching prevents injuries because it increases the flexibility of muscles, which makes muscle contractions smoother.

Others found that stretching was also effective when it was combined with a warm-up (obviously, warming up before stretching and not vice versa).

It was also noted that stretching was found to reduce the number of groin or buttock problems in women.

One scientist recommended that stretching is most effective when done within 15 minutes before engaging in physical activity.

Another study found that there is support that stretching helps to lower the risk of musculotendinous injuries.

Next week, I will continue with part two.

The above information is supplied by Yonatan Kaplan PT PhD (Candidate), Director, Jerusalem Sports Medicine Institute, Lerner Sports Center, Hebrew University. For further details, e-mail sportmed@zahav.net.il, call Yonatan at 054-463-9463 or visit www.jsportmed.com

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