How stretching before any form of exercise can save you in the long run.

Stretching, here’s how most of us would define it: “Those time consuming first 30 minutes before exercise, it’s not always a bad thing to skip them when pressed for time and some people don’t even consider it as part of exercise, therefore arriving 30 minutes after training has started”.  Close enough definition yes?

So what exactly is the point of stretching?

Stretching is putting different muscles of the body at their optimal lengths and keeping it there for a few seconds in order to increase flexibility.  It ensures that each muscle can move through its full range of motion. For example if you were stretching the shoulder, you would lift it up and down, in and out, roll it in and out etc.  Other activities might require more flexibility than another such as a ballerina vs a runner, different kinds of stretches are then introduced.

Static: Most common stretches where you place the muscle in its optimal length and holding that position for 30 seconds to a point of a mild discomfort.

Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation: Holding the muscle at optimal length and also contracting and relaxing the muscle in this position.  This stretch would mostly be used in strengthening the muscle as well.

Bouncing stretches: Bouncing movements while in a position of a stretched muscle to increase the range of motion.

Dynamic stretch: Gentle repetitive movements that gradually increase ROM but will mostly remain in the normal ROM.  This type of stretching mostly precedes warm up.

Although recent research from the NHS in the UK suggests that stretching before exercise is unlikely to reduce your risk of injury, improve your performance or prevent sore muscles, there is also no evidence that doing so will do you any harm.  The biggest and seemingly only advantage to stretching is increase in flexibility, meaning you can twist, bend, crouch, throw and reach without hassle or stiffness.

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To stretch or not to stretch has been a long standing scientific debate that always concludes with something I always say.  It is a personal choice, some people have built stretching into their exercise routine whether both before and after an activity or just once.  Here is what I do: I never begin any form of exercise without stretching, I have worked it into my warm up routine simply because of the lifestyle I lead, my work requires me to take up many different positions and straight after work I sit in the same position while driving, I therefore choose to do static stretches before I exercise to eliminate stiffness and to just calmly and gradually introduce my body to the exercise activity that lies ahead.

I also look at the activity I am going to do and focus mostly on the muscles that are going to be exerting the most force  for example if I am going for a 10 km run I will stretch mostly my lower limb muscles (gluteus, quads, hamstrings and calves and the ligaments and muscles of the ankle and feet) and if I would be playing a game of netball I would include the upperlimb and trunk as it is an activity that involves the use of the entire body right up to the muscle of the fingers.  In the case of a sporting activity I would also include dynamic stretches before the activity.

In terms of stretching after exercise, I do not normally stretch after light exercise however after an intense full body workout, Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation or PNF usually helps relief my body.  The great thing about this type stretching is you can do it even under a running shower where both the heat and the PNF will give relief and relaxation to the body, maybe this is why I shower for an hour after exercise?