Stretching vs warming up
Staying flexible has important health benefits for people of all ages. How and when we hold a stretch could also have an impact on performance, recovery time and risk of injury.
Australian researchers from the School of Physiotherapy at the University of Sydney reviewed seven studies on the effects of stretching and found that there was limited evidence to suggest that ‘static stretching’, or holding a stretch while remaining still, reduced muscle soreness or reduced the risk of injury.
It seems the most effective way to gain flexibility is through ‘dynamic stretching’, where you are constantly moving as you stretch the muscles. This may be through warm-up exercises such as star-jumps, lunges, legs swings or arm circles.
“Research has shown warming up does reduce the odds of an injury and it also cuts muscle soreness, although only by a little. Cooling down at the other end of your workout, however, doesn’t seem to have any effect. So if you want to do something immediately before a workout, do a warm-up,” he said.
However, in the long-term stretching can help maintain balance and strength, as well as improve blood circulation and give you a wider range of motion in your joints. This is particularly important in older people, to preserve the range of motion required to perform daily tasks and other physical activity. It may also act as a form of low-intensity exercise in older people or those with a disability.
Activities such as pilates may be a good way to use dynamic stretching to build strength in your core muscles for better posture, balance and flexibility over the long-term.
Remember to check with your doctor or health professional before stretching if you have an injury, are unsure of how to stretch properly or have had a previous injury.
Do you regularly stretch before or after exercise? Do you feel it offers you any benefits?