Young man and woman performing stretching exercises on the side of a road.

Why Stretch?

Stretching is ubiqutous. The question is never asked is it necessary? Is it helping or hindring your performance. Should I stretch before or after my activity. These are some of the questions often asked.

What is Stretching?

When you stretch you put your body through and extend beyond its normal range of movement.  Everyone has seen people before a run around the park elongating their limbs, bending over to touch their toes is a method of increasing the range of motion of muscles and connective tissues and thereby beleiving they are  increasing their ability to function. It is deemed important because it is purported to prevent injury, improve performance, prevents soreness, and helps with recovery.

So What’s the Evidence That Stretching Helps Prevent Injury?

To be honest there isnt much evidence that stretching help at all a study in the Clinical Journal Of  Sports Medicine  shows that at best stretching does not offer any benefit in prevention of injuries. Furthermore there are other studies that show that it may actually decrease your performance afterwards by both reducing the power of your muscle contraction, and increasing the propensity to injury. The  article also discusses studies of the relationship between joint laxity and injury and the role that stiffness may play in enhancing performance and preventing injury, you can read this here. The other bit to note is that these studies provide no evidence that stretching reduces soreness after training. So thats a double whammy against pre exercise stretching as a way of preparing yourself for an activity.

But What If I Want To Be More Flexible?

That’s easy to answer.  You then need to stretch.  As people slowly age I usually find their aspirations of wishing to enter the world of ballet have finally diminished, likewise gymnastics.  I rarely get patients over 40 telling me they wish to join the Royal Ballet or a gymnastic troupe, but if and when that happens then of course stretching is important, but it is a different context. The more flexible sports such as gymnastics and ballet tend to attract those with laxer ligaments and therefore more inherent flexibility. To keep and even enhance flexiblity it is necessary to stretch and to do this effectively it is done at least twice a day.

OK, But Should I Stretch After My Physical Activity?

Again citing the literature there is no consensus that this hampers recovery , but nor does it suggest it prevents post exercise soreness, in fact an older study clearly demonstrates that in both pre and post exercise stretching has no effect on flexibility . Read here so knowing that stretching before and after exercise has no beneficial effect should you avoid stretching completely?

What About Yoga And Other Stretchy Activities?

If you enjoy yoga, continue.  You are doing it a sole activity and not doing this before an athletic event presumably.  There is a lot of evidence that by itself activities such as yoga, can help people reduce blood pressure, it increases their flexibility as it is an activity that is repeatable, but it will only go so far in this respect as we all have a limit to how far our bodies will stretch.  Not everyone will be able to bend backwards and put their head under their legs or put their leg behind their neck. We can all aspire to do this but perhaps there are other things in life that may be more important?

I’m Confused Should I or Should I Not Stretch?

The answer is nuanced. I am not here to take any pleasures away, so if you enjoy stretching continue.  Activities such as yoga, and pilates have demonstrable benefits, and people enjoy doing them.  In this blog what I am referring to is the habit of stretching before or after a run or any other physical activity and the evidence confirms that at best it is pointless at worst if done before the activity , it may increase injury risk and reduce performance.