When is the best time to stretch? How long should we stretch for? Why should we stretch? Does Pilates help to improve flexibility in a safer way? All questions that provoke different opinions and attitudes. I have people come from all over the world to work with me here in Barcelona on my fitness holidays or retreats, and I also train teachers in many different countries, so I hear a lot of different ideas and opinions. So….
Today I want to talk about stretching. Whilst I write my articles aimed at fitness professionals to get different opinions, I also know that many members of the public read my blog as well so I want to make this post informative. However this is still a blog post so by its very nature it needs to be short and sweet.
Let’s start with what is not in dispute (at least I hope we can agree on this).
Your body relies on three main types of tissue when it comes to movement: muscles, ligaments and tendons. However, these tissues can become tight over time, resulting in a reduced range of motion and a higher risk for injury. Stretching can help remedy this problem, when used the correct way and at the correct times within your weekly workout schedule.
One of the main long-term effects of stretching is an increase in your overall flexibility. When you make stretching a habit, you slowly stretch out the connective tissues of your body. Over time, this lengthens the tissues, improving the range of motion in your joints, and in turn your overall ability to move. Stretching these muscles and connective tissues can also help relieve muscle stiffness and reduce the risk of joint degeneration.
More flexibility may also decrease the risk of injuries related to overstretched or overextended muscles and other connective tissues. This is true as long as stretching is thought of as a regular routine, instead of acute stretching directly before exercise, sports practice or a game. Stretching after exercise can also help reduce aches and pains, according to the American Council on Exercise. This is due to stretching’s ability to reduce the shortening and tightening effect of tissues that occurs after exercise and leads to aches and pains.
Static flexibility is stretching one muscle or joint for a duration of time, usually about 30 seconds. This method relaxes the muscles by reducing the amount of neural stimulation which also lengthens any tightness in the muscles and tissues. You should perform static flexibility after your workout, not before, to cool down and relax your body.
Dynamic flexibility is moving one or more joints or muscles in their full range of motion repetitively with control. This method increase neural stimulation, prepares your mind and body for the upcoming workout or activity and increase body temperature. You should perform dynamic flexibility before your workout or activity.
Since the body moves in three primary directions, perform your stretches in all planes of motion that your joint allows. For example, rather than stretching your shoulder in one direction, move your shoulder and together in various directions repetitively until it feels looser, such as over your head, out to the side, in front of you and across your body. Add a rotation to your arm and wrist as you move to experiment with different stretches.
Agreed? I hope so. But now let’s talk about the areas where there is less agreement. There is evidence that static stretching before a game or practice may actually hurt athletic performance (Dr. L.W. McDaniel). The negative effects of static stretching before athletic competition can last up to an hour after the stretching has been completed.
Several papers have been published which has produced a substantial body of evidence that stretching may not be the way to improve performance and decrease risk of injury. There are two studies that have reported that strength was reduced up to one hour after static stretching (Fowles et al. 2000] and Kokkonen et al. 1998). Another study that focused on peak torque during concentric isokinetic leg extension discovered that after one active and three passive stretches, strength decreased at both high and low speeds (Cramer et al. 2004)
So in conclusion, in most cases static stretching before exercise reduces an athlete’s power and strength. If the athlete participates in power or strength exercises acute stretching may not be recommended. For many competitive athletes warming up completely prior to competition and stretching after competition or training may be more important. By stretching afterwards the athlete gains flexibility without compromising power and strength. An additional consideration related to stretching would be to not over extend your range of motion (over stretch a muscle) this practice may cause muscle damage.
How does this evidence relate to the public in general, personal training clients and Pilates client’s in particular? What is your experience personally and with your clients? What are your routines for stretching with your clients?
Chris is an international Pilates presenter and educator based in Barcelona, Spain. He is the creator of Pilates EVO©, bodyFUNC©, and CEO of Pilates Rehab Limited and Sport Core Strength. He also organises Pilates Carnival and Fitness Carnival, conventions where all profits go to local children’s charities. For more information about Pilates with Chris in Barcelona, please click on Barcelona Bienestar. To learn more about Chris, please read Just who is Chris Hunt anyway? You can also subscribe by completing the form on the this BLOG to receive articles and special offers straight to your inbox.
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