Do I really need to stretch before and/or after exercise?

There are a variety of schools of thought on stretching, both pre and post exercise, and exercises and therapists alike, will adopt their views based on their own experience/ evidence.

One thing which is pretty widely accepted is that stretching is rarely a bad thing, and can only be deemed to be detrimental if the health and condition of the individual, or muscles being stretched, are not fully considered prior to an exercise programme.

The main considerations to take into account are:

– Is it pre or post exercise?

– Are there any injuries present?i

– What am I looking to achieve?  (More flexibility for dynamic movements in rugby for example, or to lengthen the muscles following a heavy weights session?)

Despite the varying trains of thought surrounding stretching, it’s commonly accepted that stretching prior to exercise is likely to prevent injury.  By warming up the fibres and gently taking the limbs through a slowly increasing range of motion, the likelihood of tearing a muscle is reduced, and where a more powerful movement is required, a maximally stretched muscle will produce a greater dynamic contraction.

Post exercise stretching is also widely believed to alleviate aches and pains by lengthening individual muscle fibres, and aiding the removal of waste products (like lactic acid), and improving blood circulation for growth and repair.

Fatigue is a common complaint amongst exercises and athletes, and is often caused by opposing muscles having to work harder to contract against the tightness and rigidity of their antagonist (for example, biceps are short and tight, which makes the tricep extensions that much more of an effort to compensate).

Conclusion:

It’s pretty fair to conclude that stretching is not only useful, but is a vital tool in maintaining a healthy, pain and injury free fitness programme, by following simple rules…….

 – Dynamic stretching prior to exercise.

 – Static stretching post exercise,holding each stretch for a minimum of 30-60 seconds.

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