The First Myth
Do you Stretch before exercising?
It is a well known idea that stretching BEFORE exercise will reduce the risk of injuries. Different researchers have compared the risk of injury after long programmes of stretching, but no significant differences were reported. On the other hand, long term stretching may allow greater force production on longer muscle length, which is beneficial for some sporting disciplines, like jumping. However, this potential gain is not clinically beneficial for endurance sports, like runners, swimmers or cyclists.
The lack of evidence that a stretched muscle is less prone to injury can be related to the multiple factors that are involved as possible causes of an injury; such as poor technique, muscle imbalances, training progression, etc. However, a regular routine of stretching can be an important tool in the maintenance and promotion of range of motion and body awareness.
The Second Myth
Stretching will lengthen your muscle tissues: This is completely false.
Muscle tissue attaches at fixed points in the bone, so the fibres themselves cannot get permanently longer. The real explanation to improvements in the flexibility is related to the connective tissue (ligaments, tendons and fascia) and the nervous system in control of it.
The Neuro systems; expressed in nerves dispersed throughout the muscle and tendon.
When a movement seems to be “too much” and the muscle maybe gets damaged, those nerves will fire, informing and producing resistance as a result. When you stretch regularly, you retrain the nervous system to be quiet at deeper levels of stretch, increasing the tolerance. This is why a regular routine is mandatory.
On the other hand, flexibility improves in relation to the connective tissue that surrounds the muscle (ligaments, tendons and fascia). When a muscle contracts there is always a degree of overlapping in the muscle fibres, and the connective tissue is in some degree disorganised. The stretching action actually is transmitted, helping in the realignment of the fibres and organisation (more in parallel) of the connective tissue, increasing the apparent length of the muscle.
What is better? Static or dynamic stretch?
Static stretching, are those in which a position is held and you slowly stretch the muscle out, slow enough to not activate the “resistance reaction” (refer above). On the other hand, dynamic stretching involves a movement, which should mimic the movements of the work out that will be performed.
The dynamic stretches are the chosen form of stretching prior to work out. As they mimic the movements you will be using, they prepare your body in a specific and gradual manner, but moreover, they are fluid, don’t involve bouncing that can be too aggressive and they increase blood flow to the muscles, raise the core body temperature and get your hate rate slowly up.
Static stretching on the other hand, can reduce strength for as long as an hour after and may also reduce the explosive muscle power, so it´s best to stay away from static stretching prior to a work out. Nonetheless, as we mentioned before, having a routine of static stretches can help in a long term, achieving greater force production on a longer muscle length.
In conclusion, there is a lot of information around stretches, what is best, when you should be doing, but at the end what matters is to know what its best for you, based on your body and your specific goals.
Don’t hesitate to ask experts in the area for some advices or more information, particularly if you have and injury or you are coming back to exercise. Here in function360 we are always happy to help you achieving your goals.