Right now there is a great debate over stretching. I grew up being told to stretch before and after every physical activity. In Gym class we spent the first and last 5 minutes stretching, as did each of the teams I participated on. It seemed to make sense; tight muscles are more likely to be pulled, torn and injured. Looser stretched out muscles should allow for more free movement making you faster, stronger, and injury-proof.
However, recent studies show that static stretching may do more harm than good. Researchers have discovered that static stretching can lessen the vertical leap of athletes and the speed of sprinters. Further, static stretching does not necessarily reduce your likelihood of injury. Even more recent studies report that if you stretch before you lift weights you may find you are weaker and less steady.
Research shows that muscle strength is reduced by 5.5% in the muscles that are stretched beforehand. This percentage increases the longer the stretch is held. Muscle power is also found to decrease by 2%. Performance in activities requiring explosive muscular activity, like starting from sprinting blocks or a clean and jerk of a barbell, also has been shown to suffer as a result of static stretching. All this research seems to point to the same conclusion; stretching before exercise is generally unnecessary and may be counterproductive. More research needs to be done. Right now there is no conclusive evidence of the impact stretching may have on subsequent workouts. Nor do we know if all physical activity is similarly affected. The whys are also are still unclear.
Some research seems to suggest that a stretched out muscle has less ability to store energy, but in truth we are not sure. The only definite is that static stretching alone is not recommended as a warm-up, but a warm-up still serves a purpose. Currently, doctors and researchers recommend dynamic stretching; movements that call upon the muscles that will be used in the activity. For example, jumping jacks, high leg kicks, and high knee skipping, I am not sure where I fall on this one. The research seems to be convincing for the areas that have been studied. Nothing seems to be out there about static stretching after physical activity.
I don’t stretch before weight lifting, but will do some dynamic stretching. On the other hand, I do stretch before a long run; making sure to spend time on my quads and hamstrings. This may be more out of habit and old thinking rather than feeling as though it benefits me. I wonder how I would perform without it. What are your thoughts on stretching vs. not stretching? What do you do to warm-up?