Whether stretching is a vital part of exercising, or a waste of time has become a popular discussion point for many fitness experts over the past year. Some say that it is even more important than we realised, others disagree and say it only needs to be done prior to working out, or after a workout, or not at all!?
So today I thought we would dive into the science behind stretching, and how exactly it impacts upon your body, so that we can better understand the benefits it might offer.
Many people often refer to muscles being like elastic bands, because like elastic bands, after stretching them they return to their original state. However muscles also behave a little more like memory foam, because the rate and time in which you stretch them impacts upon the change within. Given the right amount of force/pressure and time, muscles can extend their ability to stretch, however the muscles themselves do not actually lengthen.
So when it comes to stretching our muscles it is important to understand that there are several different modalities in which stretching can be implemented. These include static, dynamic and Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) stretching. Different stretches produce different effects on the muscle and connective tissue and though sometimes very beneficial, if used incorrectly and at the wrong time, they can end up being more harmful than helpful.
Static stretching - This style of stretching involves holding a slightly challenging position over a period of time and is effective in improving flexibility. Even though this style of stretching is a great way of keeping your body flexible and limber, research now indicates that excessive static stretching prior to exercise can actually decrease the subsequent performance of the muscles being targeted. It is also indicates that though it might feel good, static stretching does not actually benefit muscle gains by increasing them through resistance training.
Dynamic stretching - Dynamic stretching does not hold the end position after the full movement of the muscle has been applied. Dynamic stretching is useful for increasing mobility and for this reason is the most beneficial to be used before a workout.
PNF stretching - This style of stretching is a more advanced form used to improve both movement and flexibility by combining stretching and contracting movements. It was initially developed as a means of rehabilitation and is often used in physiotherapy.
Static stretches are great for overall increased flexibility, and are often used in exercises such as yoga. They can also be used after a workout as they aid in bringing you body back to a state of recovery by lengthening and relaxing muscles that may have been placed under pressure.
Dynamic stretching is more beneficial for preparing your body by taking your muscles from a state of relaxation and preparing them for high energy activity.
So in short… Dynamic first and then after a warm down some static stretching is nice to use after a workout.