Is stretching alone a powerful enough technique?
Stretching is a pleasant exercise for many individuals to perform. It’s easy, it feels good, and many believe that it prevents and treats injury. The science behind stretching, increasing flexibility and range of motion is clear. However, is stretching alone a powerful enough technique to change posture, enhance performance and prevent injury?
CAN STRETCHING CHANGE POSTURE?
When consulting the evidence we find that, while stretching may have an impact on tissue extensibility and available range of motion, there is no change in long-term spinal curve or standing posture throughout the upper and lower extremity. It would appear that posture may be much more of a habit that the body prefers to rest in than a permanent structural position that we must always adhere to.
DOES STRETCHING INCREASE PERFORMANCE?
It does not appear that long-term implementation of stretching has any negative or positive impact on performance as long as aggressive stretching isn’t utilized immediately prior to strength and power activities. Lower extremity stiffness is a valuable trait needed for strength and power activities and is a key attribute in the enhancement of running, jumping, and hopping activities. Aggressive stretching robs the body of the requisite stiffness needed to act like a “spring” and generate large amounts of force. Over time this can lead to decreased performance.
DOES STRETCHING PREVENT INJURIES?
Static stretching has been shown to be very effective for flexibility in both the short and long-term. However, there is conflicting research results on whether stretching and flexibility is an important factor in either performance or injury prevention. Instead, stretching combined with both dynamic activities that include movements specific to the task and strength training utilizing the available range of motion has been shown to reduce injuries. Therefore, it is more important to devote time and attention to more strength and skill-based training, than to stretching alone to prevent injuries.
SHOULD YOU BE STRETCHING?
Simply put, stretching appears to be neither dramatically good or bad. If you value stretching because it feels “good” and aids in perceived recovery and performance psychology, then stretch. However, an improved use of your “stretch time” may be better directed towards learning a skill, strength training, plyometrics, and dynamic warm-ups if you are looking to improve performance and reduce injury.