Stretching: Is It Really That Important?

During recent conversations with various patients, I have learned that stretching does not get the attention it deserves. Stretching should be crucial part of recreational exercising, sport activities, and everyday life. Unfortunately, it often gets overlooked.

The available range of motion (ROM) in the joints of your body directly determines how effectively your body moves. Therefore, any joint restriction, such as muscle tightness, will negatively impact your mobility. Muscle tightness is due to increased tension within the tissue and can be caused by various means, including tissue adaptation to daily stressors, scarring, and/or muscle spasms. Stretching can help maintain proper muscle length to promote safe and effective movement patterns during all functional mobility.1

hip flexor stretch

How to Stretch:

American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends stretching at least 2-3 times a week. Each stretch should be held for 10-30 seconds. This should be repeated 2-4 times for a total of 60 seconds, per stretch. Research shows stretching is most effective when the muscle is warm. Therefore, ACSM suggests stretching after a light, aerobic warm-up or after a hot bath.2

It is important to note that recent research has shown static stretching, as described above, may create an acute stretch-induced strength loss3. Multiple studies have documented a significant reduction in muscle strength, power, speed, and overall sport performance. Therefore, performing static stretching prior to a sport-related activity is not recommended. Dynamic stretching is defined as active movements that produce a stretch without sustaining pressure at the end range of motion. This type of stretching is performed by repeatedly moving through a controlled range of motion to increase blood flow, neuromuscular activity, and tissue flexibility3.  Some examples of dynamic stretches include:

  • leg kicks
  • high knees
  • lunges with trunk rotation
  • arm circles/arm swings

In a 2012 systematic review, Kay and Blazevich report “it appears that the use of stretching exercises that are specific to the demands and the role of each muscle for the final performance yields better results.”3 Simply stated, you need apply the type of stretching best suited for your needs! Dynamic stretching should be implemented prior to activities that require jumping and running, such as basketball or soccer. Static stretching is beneficial if performed prior to activities that require increased joint range of motion, such as a dancing5.

Stretching can provide multiple benefits to people of any age or activity level. Just select the best type of stretch for your needs, safely implement it into your daily routine, and stick with it!

  • 1. Page P. 2012. Clinical Commentary Current Concepts in Muscle Stretching for Exercise and Rehabilitation. http://revdesportiva.pt/files/para_publicar/Stretching_exercise_Reab_2012_fev.pdf Accessed 11 February 2016.
  • 2. American College of Sports Medicine. 2011. ACSM Issues New Recommendations on Quantity and Quality of Exercise. http://www.acsm.org/about-acsm/media-room/news-releases/2011/08/01/acsm-issues-new-recommendations-on-quantity-and-quality-of-exercise Accessed 9 February 2016.
  • 3. Kay, A and Blazevich, A. 2012. Effect of Acute Static Stretching on Muscle Performance: A Systematic Review. https://www.anatomytrains.com/wp-content/uploads/manual/acute_stretch.pdf Accessed 9 February 2016.
  • 4. Folster, A. 2014. Why Stretching is Extremely Important. SHCS Blog. https://shcs.ucdavis.edu/blog/healthy-habits/why-stretching-is-extremely-important.html#.Vrn9xsbF_zI Accessed 9 February 2016.
  • 5. NHS choices. 2015. Do I need to stretch before exercising? http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/fitness/Pages/Do-I-need-to-stretch-before-or-after-a-run-or-sports-and-exercise.aspx Access 11 February 2016.