How do you decide what is a good stretch and what is just bad stretching? Most of my patients are well informed. They investigate disorders on line, they discuss problems in the gym, and they talk to me freely about their concerns. One concern that has been brought up time and time again is what is considered a bad stretch and what is a good stretch. When should you stretch, and when should you not stretch?
Why is static stretching getting a
bad rap and is there such a thing as a bad method of stretching? Not
all stretching is good and not all stretching is appropriate for all
occasions. Bad stretching is really a matter of bad timing.
When is Stretching Bad?
Should Stretching be Included in a Warm up?
The Effects of Static Stretching on Muscle Force
Summary & Recommendations to avoid bad stretching.
Contraindications to Stretching
We want to avoid any activity that
will hinder our performance. If that performance involves feats of
strength or power, then static stretching should be left for after the
activity. If that activity requires extreme flexibility rather than
strength then avoiding static stretching is not as important.
Literature suggests that static stretching can reduce the force
generated by a muscle by up to 30% for up to 30 minutes.
Stretching is also bad when it reinforces poor posture and movement patterns. For instance, those of us that bend forward repeatedly at work benefit little from stretches that flex our lumbar spine. Repeated flexion of the lumbar spine can cause disk injuries, so we don't want to reinforce this movement in our exercises.
Stretching joints that are already unstable can cause further injury. If you've dislocated a joint, have a hypermobility disorder, or if your are involved in a sport that predisposes you to laxity, you should consult a physical therapist to advise you on a stretching regimen.
Click here for a list of contraindications to stretching, and if you have any concerns ask your physical therapist for advice.
The way one stretches prior to an
activity is very different than how one should stretch after a sport or
activity. A proper warm up is believed by most educated people in the
field to be necessary to optimize performance in a sport in order to
warm up muscles and joints. Whether or not to stretch during this warm
up has been a bone of contention for many athletes and the subject of
plenty of research. Studies and anecdotal evidence exists supporting
both view points. Perhaps it is not a question of whether or not to
stretch but simply when and how is appropriate for a given sport. Bad
stretching is really a matter of bad timing.
Stretching as part of a pre game warm up will
This is achieved through dynamic stretching.
After activity is the time for recovery when you can restore your flexibility. When the muscles are warm is the optimum time to gain flexibility and after activity will help to minimize post exercise soreness.
This is achieved through static stretching.
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There are three mechanisms that
are implicated in the reduction of force and power produced by a muscle
after static stretching:
Another hypothesis is that a stretch causes microscopic damage to the
muscle fibres. The basic literature suggests strains of 20% beyond the
resting length of a muscle fibre can create muscle damage that results
in a decrease in force.
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Remember, bad stretching is really just bad timing.
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1. Avela J, Kyröläinen H, Komi PV. Altered reflex sensitivity due to repeated and prolonged passive muscle stretching. J Appl Physiol 86: 1283-1291, 1999.
2. Avela J, Finni T, Liikavainio T, Niemela E, Komi PV. Neural and mechanical responses of the triceps surae muscle group after 1 h of repeated fast passive stretches. J Appl Physiol 96: 2325-2332, 2004.