Is stretching before exercise doing more harm than good?
For years, we have been told how important it is to stretch before and after exercise to reduce muscle soreness and prevent injury. Even though stretching before a workout has never actually been proven to be effective, most people do not question it. But now, in a piece for Daily Mail, renowned osteopath and back pain specialist Garry Trainer explains that stretching “is pretty much pointless.”
“For decades, we have followed the mantra that omitting to stretch before or after a workout significantly increases the risk of us picking up an injury,” writes Trainer. “But there is mounting evidence that not all stretching is equal, and that some of those exercises we were told do at school may actually do more harm than good.”
Elastin is a protein in connective tissue that is highly elastic and allows tissues in the body to resume their shape after stretching. Trainer points out that individuals who have more elastin in their bodies are naturally better at stretching than others and have a greater range of movement.
“This explains why some people can just walk into a yoga class, perform all the poses without any effort and, in the process, annoy others who have struggled for years and still can’t perfect them,” says Trainer. “For the latter group, stretching can actually cause tears in the tissues that support their joints. These tears then create scar tissue that leaves tissues even more unstable than before.”
The most common form of stretching is static stretching, which generally involves holding a stretch for up to a minute. A recent study found that holding a pose for up to 45 seconds did have any positive or negative impact on performance.
“However, holding a stretch for longer than 60 seconds actually weakened muscles, so doing it before or during exercise is probably counterproductive.” While static stretching may not improve performance, Trainer explains that this practice can be good for increasing flexibility, if done correctly.
“In my experience, a good deep-tissue massage or using a foam roller – one of those hard tubes of plastic that you see in gyms – does a better job than stretching post-exercise. Moving a foam roller back and forth over a muscle massages the immediate area, such as the hamstring or calf. And it can be done before a workout, too.”
According to Trainer, some sports medicine doctors recommend to simply perform your chosen activity at half speed and then gradually build up to full speed.
“Warm muscles both contract more forcefully and relax more quickly, reducing the risk of overstretching and causing injury,” says Trainer. “Warming up will also increase the overall body temperature, which can improve muscle elasticity, potentially increasing speed and strength.”
“So forget standing still and pulling your limbs this way and that – get moving gradually and warm everything up before tackling your workout.”