What Are the Benefits of Stretching?

Stretching May Improve Flexibility But Won't Reduce Injury or Soreness

Stretching
Stretching. Drazen Lovric/Creative RF/Getty

Why should you stretch? Stretching routines are a standard part of most exercise classes or coaching sessions. Should you stretch before, during, or after a walking workout or other cardio exercise?

Research on Stretching Disputes Injury Prevention or Reducing Muscle Soreness

You will hear three main reasons given to stretch during an exercise warm-up and to stretch during your cool down. The first is that stretching will help prevent injury.

The second is that it will reduce muscle soreness after your workout. The third is that it can improve your range of motion and therefore help your performance.

But what coaches have taught for decades hasn't been proven by research. Research finds a place for stretching in improving range of motion, but has not been proven to prevent injuries or to decrease muscle soreness when done before, during, or after exercise. For many years, systematic reviews of the best studies say you can't reduce injury or decrease muscle soreness by stretching.
More: Stretching - What the Research Shows

Static Stretching for Flexibility and Range of Motion

Why, then, should you stretch? Flexibility is often a goal in and of itself. Being able to take a joint through its full range of motion gives us more freedom of movement. In addition, stretching to relax tight muscles feels good and balances the body. Fitness activities such as yoga and stretching concentrate on flexibility.

Improving your flexibility and range of motion with a regular static stretching routine may help you be able to do things you couldn't do before. Static stretching is slowly elongating the muscle through its full range of motion, then holding it at a position where it is at full extension (but without pain).

The stretch is held for 15 to 30 seconds.

How often should you stretch? Research showed that daily stretching, once per muscle group for 30 seconds, can result in an increase in range of motion. You can do that routine at any time of the day. You may find it convenient to do it with your other workouts, or you can do it separately.

A specific type of static stretching, proprioreceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching, was developed for injury rehabilitation and is now being used by athletes. It is done after exercise.

Stretching for Walkers

You need to ask yourself whether you would find the time to stretch or do flexibility exercises if you didn't include them as part of your usual exercise workouts. You can use this stretching routine for walkers to make it part of your walking workouts.

Always Warm-Up Before Stretching

It is recommended that you warm up with an activity that exercises the muscles to be stretched for 5 to 10 minutes before stretching. Walking at an easy pace is a proper warm-up.

If you plan to walk at a very fast pace and want to stretch before your speed workout, warm up first at an easy pace, then stretch.

Stretching After Exercise?

Stretching after exercise can help to relax and balance tension on muscles that have just been exercised. Traditionally this was done after a cool-down period. Or, you may wish to do the stretching as its own activity separate from your cardio or strength exercise workouts.

Sources:

de Noronha M, Kamper SJ. Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. September 1996. doi:10.1002/14651858.cd004577.pub3

Hindle K, Whitcomb T, Briggs W, Hong J. Proprioceptive neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF): Its mechanisms and effects on range of motion and muscular function. Journal of Human Kinetics. 2012;31(-1). doi:10.2478/v10078-012-0011-y

Lauersen JB, Bertelsen DM, Andersen LB. The effectiveness of exercise interventions to prevent sports injuries: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2013;48(11):871–877. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2013-092538.

Leppänen M, Aaltonen S, Parkkari J, Heinonen A, Kujala UM. Interventions to prevent sports related injuries: A systematic review and Meta-Analysis of Randomised controlled trials. Sports Medicine. 2013;44(4):473–486. doi:10.1007/s40279-013-0136-8.

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