To Stretch or Not To Stretch
Do you stretch? If so, how long do you hold the stretch? And when do you stretch? All of these things make a difference!
We used to think that the best preparation for athletic activity was a thorough long-held static stretching routine performed shortly before the start of activity. This was just accepted as common knowledge, but is it true??
Well, it turns out that many scientific studies have found that pre-exercise/activity stretching can be counter-productive. This means, it does not necessarily help to reduce the risk of injury or to increase strength and athletic performance; and may in fact do just the opposite!
How can this be? Well, part of it has to do with the way your muscles function. Muscle cells are arranged in long overlapping fibers with special ratcheting mechanisms in between the overlapped areas. Long-held static stretching pulls these muscle fibers apart, reduces the number of “ratchets” that can be used in muscle contraction, and has been found to reduce muscular strength and power for a period of time. In addition, static stretching may have an inhibitory or relaxing effect on part of the nervous system that would prompt muscle contraction. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
As a result of these recent findings, what is now more widely recommended is dynamic stretching with a warm up routine before athletic activity to improve performance and reduce the risk of injury. Long-held static stretching can still be useful for increasing range of motion. However, it should be performed right after exercise or athletic activity while your body is still warm or, in the case of workplace athletes, after the workday is through.
For workplace athletes in trades such as construction, maintenance or manual laborer, dynamic stretching within a warm-up routine is exactly the kind of warm up that should be performed. On the other hand, office workers may benefit from briefly held stretches designed to reduce the chemical buildup created from long-held static postures can help to reduce discomfort and improve overall health and productivity.
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