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Stretching for Exercise: Is it really necessary?


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It's very common to see people spending a lot of their time on stretching at the gym. But is it really necessary for you to stretch prior to doing physical exercise?

Back in the day, stretching was a no-brainer, but as time went on and more research was done on the subject, it became more questionable as to whether or not stretching was actually beneficial for the average person. The researchers have suggested that doing stretches prior to working out might not be what it's been hyped up to be - but what about doing it post-workout?


Static Stretching Prior to Exercise

There was a study that was published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research which suggested that stretching prior to working out led to more than as much as an 8% decrease in lower-body strength levels. This was measured by having the test subjects performing a one-rep max barbell back squat.

The researchers suggested that doing static stretching may change or limit the ability of your muscles to fire efficiently; something that is key to lifting heavy weights or doing explosive exercises such as sprints or plyometrics.

When stretching, you lengthen muscles before warming up, and this limits its' potential to generate strength and power while you are working out. This causes a reduction in performance and can also increase the risk of injury.

Contrarily, another study that was published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise suggested that pre-workout stretching had no effect at all - positive or negative - on test subjects' performance during sprinting and jumping. Change-of-direction tests used in team sports athletes were also tested by them.

Studies suggest that you should rather perform a series of dynamic bodyweight exercises rather than static stretching prior to working out. By doing so, you will increase your joint mobility and improve your muscle activation, which ultimately helps prime your body for action in the workout you are about to do.

So, if you're getting ready to do some lower-body exercises, doing movements such as squats and lunges, only using your bodyweight, will help prepare your joints and muscles for the workout ahead.


Static Stretching After Exercise

While some studies suggest that doing static stretching as part of your pre-workout routine might not be the best thing to do to improve exercise performance, doing the stretching after the workout is beneficial as a means to reduce or prevent DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) - especially when combined with foam rolling.

You always want your muscles to be warmed up when you stretch them. When you finish your workout, your muscles are going to be tense and shortened as a result of contracting them hard repeatedly throughout the workout. This is where foam rolling is absolutely ideal.

There are many things that can contribute to muscles getting sore - your muscles will not get the blood flow they need when they are tense and shortened, and thus they will not get the circulation of nutrients nor the removal of waste products.

Doing foam rolling will help ease up those tense muscles, making them more relaxed. Once they are more relaxed, you can lengthen them better with some static stretching.


Dynamic Stretching

This is a little different from static stretching. Dynamic stretching are more active movements that are not about holding a stretch, but rather have you move your body so that you are prepared for your workout. Static stretching, on the other hand, has you hold a stretch for an extended amount of time.

An idea for a warmup could be having a light aerobic warmup alongside some dynamic stretching exercises. You could also do some foam rolling before going on to lift weights to prime your muscles for the work. It does not need to be a very long workout at all - five minutes of each should be plenty.


Do You Really Need Stretching then?

Research suggests that foam rolling and stretching your muscles after working out is the way to go. You could do something like rolling each of the muscles you have just worked out for about 30 seconds before moving into some static stretching.

The researchers suggest that the actual static stretching should go on and be held for about 30 seconds - easing your way from the beginning to a full stretch in each movement.

No matter what you choose to do, you should never force a stretch - it will hinder the ability of your muscles to relax and lengthen the way they should.


Stretching For Exercise: Wrap-up

All the experts agree that a proper warmup routine as well as a cooldown are both importance for performance. Just like anything else, static stretching does have a place in your routine (as with dynamic mobility work). Doing dynamic stretching after working out will kickstart the calming down process of your nervous system. So, when you do stretching, you are actually sending your brain a message saying that you want to relax.

Stretching is also great to do on off-days. If you wake up in the morning and your joints or muscles feel a little stiff, a few quick stretches could help you get your day started off well and bring your muscles back to their ideal length.


Let us Know What Your Thoughts on Stretching are!

What are your thoughts on stretching? Do you do dynamic stretching only? Do you combine both static and dynamic stretching, or do you not believe in any of it all? Comment down below and let us know what your thoughts are.