Understanding stretching and flexibility is crucial for optimising performance and preventing injuries. All training plans include some form of mobility and flexibility work.

The Truth About Stretching: Debunking Myths and Embracing Modern Concepts

In recent years, there has been a growing backlash against traditional stretching practices within the exercise and fitness industry. Some claim that stretching is detrimental and should be avoided altogether. Much of this scepticism is rooted in research on stretching before exercise and injury prevention. So, is stretching really bad for you, or does it offer the injury prevention benefits we were once told by our youth sports coaches? The answer, is both yes and no.


The Old-School Warm-Up

Remember those days of football training when your warm-up involved two laps around the field  followed by 10 minutes of static stretching? This routine was aimed at ensuring a proper warm-up and minimising the risk of injury. However, recent research, including comprehensive systematic reviews, has debunked the myth that static stretching as part of the warm-up reduces the risk of injury. In fact, it appears to have little to no impact.

So, does this mean stretching is harmful? Not exactly. While the evidence shows no significant difference in injury risk between stretching and non-stretching groups, it also highlights that static stretching doesn't actively prevent injuries. Therefore, the current best practice recommendation for warm-ups is to skip static stretches and instead opt for dynamic warm-up exercises that are specific and prepare your body for the upcoming activity.


Acute Stretch-Induced Strength Loss

Static stretching has been associated with a phenomenon known as acute stretch-induced strength loss. After static stretching, a muscle may not be able to produce as much force as it could before stretching. However, this reduction in strength is short-lived, lasting only a few minutes. For athletes, this suggests that heavy static stretching close to competition or maximal lifts might not be ideal. While it doesn't significantly increase the risk of injury, it could impair performance.


Modern Concepts in Stretching

Recent advances in understanding stretching and flexibility reveal that our nervous system plays a more significant role than previously thought. The nervous system controls flexibility, with receptors in muscle spindles and tendons providing feedback to prevent excessive tension or length. Stretching is believed to inhibit this neural drive, affecting flexibility.


Additionally, nerve tissue itself is sensitive to tension, leading to muscle contraction to protect against excessive strain. This insight allows for a broader understanding of mobility and pain, emphasising the importance of modifying neurodynamics to improve flexibility.



In Summary


  1. Dynamic Warm-Up is Key: Static stretching before exercise doesn't reduce injury risk. Opt for a dynamic warm-up that effectively prepares your body for the specific activity.


  1. Flexibility Training is Beneficial: While static stretching in warm-ups might not be recommended, targeted flexibility and mobility training offer numerous benefits. It can reduce post-exercise soreness and lower injury risk if flexibility limitations impact your sport or contribute to symptoms.


  1. Tight Muscles May Not Need Stretching: Feeling muscle tightness doesn't always indicate the need for stretching. Short muscles might require flexibility training, but persistent tightness could result from muscle weakness or overuse.


  1. The Nervous System Drives Flexibility: The nervous system protects the body by resisting excessive muscle length. Stretching can desensitize this protective mechanism and teach the nervous system to adapt to new lengths.


  1. Explore Neurodynamic Treatments: Mobilizations and neurodynamic treatments can significantly impact mobility and alleviate symptoms.


In conclusion, understanding the intricacies of stretching and flexibility is crucial for optimising performance and preventing injuries. This is why all our training programs include some form of mobility and flexibility work. Of course mobility and flexibility issues are specific to the person. If you have any questions don't hesitate to ask your coach.


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