Stretching is a form of physical exercise in which a specific muscle or tendon (or muscle group) is deliberately flexed or stretched in order to improve the muscle’s felt elasticity and achieve comfortable muscle tone. The result is a feeling of increased muscle control, flexibility, and range of motion. Stretching is also used therapeutically to alleviate cramps.
What stretch is the best stretch?
Both dynamic and static stretching can be beneficial to an overall training program. A topic of debate is which one is better for performance, and when should the stretch be performed? Two types of stretching that will be discussed are dynamic, and static stretching. Dynamic stretching involves repeated, continuous and progressive movement (e.g. leg swings) whereas static stretching involves holding a stretch for a sustained period of time.
More commonly, static stretching has played a main role in warm up routines. However, dynamic stretching has become increasingly popular due to studies showing that static stretching does not help prevent exercise-induced injuries, and can hinder some tasks such as short sprints, reaction time, and vertical jumps when it is performed pre-activity. In contrast, dynamic stretching has been found in some studies to enhance power and agility when performed before exercise. It has also been shown to improve thermoregulation and reduce lactate concentration (that burning feeling you may get in your muscles during a workout).
Does this mean that dynamic stretching is the only type of stretch we should be doing? The answer is no, static stretching is also important. Regular stretching and increased flexibility can improve performance based on sport-specific needs. There is also some preliminary evidence that static stretching can reduce musculotendinous injuries (where muscle meets tendon, e.g. where the calf muscles meet the Achilles tendon). Static stretching can be done as a separate routine but can also be performed after the muscles are already warmed up.
Overall, both forms of stretching are needed in a good training program. Muscles function best when they are at optimal length and certain sports may require more flexibility than others. If stretching and strengthening of key muscles are not done, muscle imbalances may occur. These imbalances are often a main contributing factor for many musculoskeletal conditions such as patellofemoral pain syndrome – stay tuned for more on this in other blog posts!