If you’ve ever participated in a sport, your coach probably taught you a simple fundamental: make sure you stretch to warm up those tight muscles and prevent injuries. Sounds like reasonable advice, right?
Turns out coach may not have been completely right. While certain types of stretching can be useful before and after workouts, you can actually inhibit your performance or, worse, hurt yourself by doing the wrong types of stretches at the wrong times.
In this article, you’ll learn 10 science-proven facts about stretching, so you can experience the benefits of stretching while avoiding injuries.
1. Stretching before a workout can inhibit your performance.
A study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that static stretching before a workout reduced participants’ strength in the squat by 8.36 percent, and reduced lower-body stability by 22.68 percent. A research review of 104 studies found that static stretching reduces overall strength in the stretched muscles by almost 5.5 percent. You might want to try…
2. Dynamic stretching is better when warming up.
Research shows that to avoid a decrease in strength and performance before an athletic performance, you should do dynamic stretches during your warm-up. Dynamic stretches involve moving while you stretch. Examples include burpees, jumping jacks, leg kicks, squats, lunges and pushups.
3. To increase range of motion, try PNF stretching.
PNF, or proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching, is a series of multi-joint, rotational movements that involve both the stretching and contraction of the muscle group being targeted. Research shows that PNF-type stretching may be more effective for immediate gains when it comes to increasing your muscular range of motion.
4. Stretching does not prevent muscle soreness.
One study found that stretching before or after exercising does not protect you from muscle soreness. While it’s still good to stretch after a workout to increase your balance and flexibility, it won’t do much to ease those aching muscles. Try an icepack and some ibuprofen instead.
5. Stretching improves your flexibility.
Stretching is still one of the best ways to get a more flexible, nimble body. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) says “flexibility training is a vital component of a well-rounded fitness program.” Try incorporating some stretching movements after your workouts and on your off days.
6. Stretching can decrease your risk of injury.
As long as you don’t do static stretches before you exercise, stretching can help increase your flexibility and decrease your risk of injury.
7. Stretching increases blood flow to your muscles.
Stretching increases blood flow to the parts of your body that need it most. This can help you avoid a whole host of injuries down the road. Keep that blood flowing by…
8. Stretching throughout the day is a good idea.
Most of us sit down for a good part of the day, which wreaks havoc on your posture and can decrease your life expectancy by two years, according to research. Stretching for short periods throughout the day helps loosen up tight muscles and prevent injuries.
9. You should never bounce when you stretch.
Bouncing while you perform static stretches is one of the easiest ways to injure yourself. Warm up dynamically instead by doing body weight exercises like lunges and squats.
10. Stretch on both sides to keep everything balanced.
Balance is a critical component of stretching. Make sure you focus on both sides when you stretch out. Hone in on the muscle groups you know you’ll use most. For example, if you’re warming up before a pick-up basketball game, do some jump squats, burpees, and push-ups to get your legs, core and shoulders loose. If you’re warming up for a run, try a few walking lunges, squats and pull-ups.
Featured photo credit: Nicholas_T via flickr.com