Stretching is commonly thought as one of those things you should do either after or before sport. But would there be any benefit of stretching daily? Is there any benefit of stretching before or after sport?
Firstly it is important to think about what stretching entails and what is trying to be achieved. Our muscles are made up of lots of muscle different fibres of individual lengths. When these muscle fibres become shorter or longer than what is considered ‘normal’ this alters the length-tension relationship. In most cases, a change from the ‘normal’ length-tension relationship will make the muscles inherently weaker.
With exercise muscle fibres generally become shorter. This means that although you are increasing the strength through the exercise they are not working to the best of their ability. Stretching has often been part of a pre exercise warm up routine or a post exercise cool down routine. However, research in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that stretching before an exercise session had no effect on the prevention of injury. It is important to remember though that a single 20 second stretch once a week is unlikely to alter the length of the muscle? Unlikely.
Stretching is important as it stops muscle fibres becoming too short or too long, which in turn means that they can perform to the best of their ability. Although research shows that stretching before exercise may not prevent injury it may well improve performance by increasing total power output. A recent study of weight lifters showed that stretching between sets could increase the total power output when lifting weights. This shows that we can improve performance by simply stretching.
Poor postures can also either shorten or lengthen muscle fibres. A common posture is one of rounded shoulders and a forward head carriage. This posture causes a lengthening of the muscles between the shoulder blades and a tightening of the chest muscles. This alteration in the length-tension relationship alters the total strength and also predisposes the person to back pain or neck pain. Stretching can help loosen up the tight muscles and together with strengthening the lengthened muscles this can then improve function, reduce pain, and improve posture.
Although stretching may not prevent injuries if used on an ad-hoc basis, stretching regularly may help maintain the correct muscle length which in turn may prevent injury and improve performance. Stretching while already suffering from pain helps return muscles back to ‘normal’, which should improve recovery times if used with other types of therapy.