Everything you need to know about stretching and exercise

Happy New Year, and welcome back to EBL in 2016!stretching-muscles-579122_960_720

Does your New Year’s resolution involve a pledge to exercise more?  Mine does.  And one of my goals to avoid getting injured as I ramp up my workouts. So I was happy to come across this systematic review on stretching.

For decades, health and fitness experts insisted that static stretching  — where you hold a single position and count to 20 or so — was essential for maintaining flexibility and preventing injuries. But about 15 years ago, exercise physiologists suggested static stretching could lead to injury. They proposed a new type of stretching, called dynamic stretching, which involves large movements to stretch muscles.

Published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, the review attempts to settle the question, what type of stretching is best?

Researchers from the England, Canada, Australia and the United States reviewed hundreds of studies on stretching, including many older systematic reviews. The review includes many details about the type of stretching that will optimize athletic performance. (For example, static stretching must be performed more than 10 minutes before an athletic event to give muscles a chance to shorten again, whereas dynamic stretching can be performed within three to five minutes of an athletic performance.)

But there is a clear take-home message that can help serious athletes and beginners alike: stretching should be incorporated into a full warm-up routine that includes an aerobic warm-up followed by both static and dynamic stretching.

By first warming up muscles then stretching them, the evidence shows that you can increase your range of motion and decrease the risk of injury.

Dr. David Behm, the study’s lead author and professor of human kinetics at Memorial University in Newfoundland, explains that some previous research of stretching did not include some essential for preventing injury. “Many studies over the last 15 years did not include a full warm-up, something that most athletes do regularly,” he explained. “Many studies also tested stretches that were held much longer than what is typically done.”

The take home message: Your exercise routine should include a full warm-up including an aerobic component and stretching to improve flexibility and prevent injury.  Happy exercising!

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