To Stretch or Not to Stretch? Well, It DependsPhysical exercise
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
Cleveland Browns assistant coach Bob Wylie certainly has an opinion on stretching. He doesn’t like it - at all!
“I’d rather watch a plant grow than stretch,” Wylie said in this USA Today report.
Contrary to many athletic coaches and fitness professionals who encourage stretching and see it as an integral part of athletic training and performance, Wylie passionately stated why he believes stretching is pointless.
“Did you know, World War I and World War II, all those guys that fought in that war ... they did pushups, jumping jacks, situps, climb the rope and ran. None of this fancy (expletive). And they won two World Wars," Wylie said.
"Do you think they were worried when they were running across Normandy about (expletive) stretching?"
He also talked about certain animals, including hogs, rhinos and gorillas, claiming they would make great offensive linemen due to having incredible centers of gravity and balance. To further emphasize his belief that stretching is useless, he then said that none of these animals ever stretch.
This all makes me wonder - does Coach Wylie make a valid argument? He is, after all, an NFL coach.
Well, it appears that Wylie is not the only one who believes stretching may not be all it’s stretched out to be!
For example, many people stretch before working out or before the big game in order to prevent an injury. But there is some credible evidence, which suggests that in some cases, like with heavy weight lifting, stretching prior to physical activity can actually increase the risk of injury.
“Over the past 30 years, stretching has transitioned from a must-do before exercise, to a must-do after exercise to a shunned exercise,” reports the American Council on Exercise (ACE).
The National Health Service (NHS) reports that some research has shown that stretching before exercise makes your muscles weaker and slower, even though you might feel more loosened up.
On the other hand, according to ACE“...some are promoting it as an effective injury-prevention practice.”
Stretching is Not Pointless. It Just Depends on the Type of Stretching and Whether You Do it Before or After Exercising.
- Static Stretch.
This is the most common and most researched type of stretch. It involves extending the targeted muscle group to its maximal point and holding for 30 seconds or longer. ACE reports that in some cases this type of stretching before working out is best for preventing injury.
- Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF).
This type of stretch usually involves holding a stretch while contracting and relaxing the muscle.
“Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) is common practice for increasing range of motion, though little research has been done to evaluate theories behind it, “ reports the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
“When completed prior to exercise, proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation decreases performance in maximal effort exercises. When this stretching technique is performed consistently and post exercise, it increases athletic performance, along with range of motion.”
- Dynamic Stretch.
This is essentially stretching while moving.
“Unlike static stretching, dynamic stretching requires the use of continuous movement patterns that mimic the exercise or sport to be performed. Generally speaking, the purpose of dynamic stretching is to improve flexibility for a given sport or activity,” according to ACE.
One example of this type of stretch is “a sprinter doing long, exaggerated strides to prepare for a race.”
“I suggest that people go through a dynamic stretching routine instead of a static stretching routine prior to exercising. Bringing the body through a range of motion can actually prepare it for the demands of the exercise session,” says a Boston University Athletics head strength and conditioning coach.
- Ballistic or Bouncing Stretches.
This stretch utilizes repeated bouncing movement to stretch the targeted muscle group. It is usually done by seasoned athletes to increase range of motion.
It is Important to Stretch the Way that Works for You.
Reaping the benefits of stretching really depends on the individual and what this individual is trying to achieve.
“Stretching for sport and exercise improves flexibility, which increases the ability of a joint to move through its full range of motion; in other words, how far it can bend, twist and reach. Some activities, such as gymnastics, require more flexibility than others, such as running,” says the NHS.
A ballerina may require more stretching prior to a performance in order to be flexible and increase range of motion. On the other hand, a competitive bodybuilder would not require nearly as much stretching before going into a weight lifting competition.
Ballerina or Bodybuilder, Here’s a Major Benefit of Stretching.
According to UC Davis School of Medicine, “stretching is an extremely important practice to add to your daily routine to be on your way to better health. Even if you are not planning on exercising vigorously, it is still important to stretch in order to receive multiple benefits for your body and your mind,”
“Most people know that stretching increases blood supply, but they do not realize that it also increases nutrient supply to muscles. Because stretching allows blood to flow through your body, the nutrients in the blood are being carried and spread out all throughout your body as well. An increased blood and nutrient supply also helps reduce soreness.”
Reportedly, if you stretch after activity,” the muscles are tired and well vascularized (think lots of healthy, nutritious blood-flow).”
Some sources also report that along with increasing blood flow and helping with the delivery of nutrients to the muscles, stretching boosts oxygen levels and also removes metabolic waste such as carbon dioxide, ammonia and uric acid.
So the next time you stretch, even if it’s just briefly at work to take a break from sitting at your desk, think of it as detoxifying your muscles and feeding them nutrient-rich blood and oxygen.
Examples of Nutrients Necessary for Stretching.
Eating a well-balanced diet with an adequate intake of essential nutrients (such as water, vitamins and minerals) will help keep your muscles healthy, protect your joints, reduce the risk of injury and help maintain and improve flexibility.
Some of these nutrients include:
- Vitamin C.
If you are deficient in this vitamin, it may cause a collagen breakdown. Collagen is a structural protein found in tissue that makes up your muscles, joints and bones. Think of collagen as glue - it helps hold your tissues together, prevents brittle bones (reducing the risk of fractures) and strengthens the tendons that anchor your bones to your skeleton and the ligaments that stabilize your joints.
According to one nutritionist, “oranges are packed with vitamin C which helps combat free radicals. We produce more free radicals when we exercise so not only can oranges help reduce the risk of chronic diseases, they can also help with recovery and staying flexible.”
We usually think of calcium as ‘the bone mineral.’ And while it’s true that this mineral helps build and maintain strong, healthy bones, it also helps keep your muscles in good shape. Calcium actually helps nourish your muscles, because muscle fiber depends on calcium to help it contract. And when you stretch, you are essentially contracting and relaxing your muscles.
To read about calcium-rich foods, click here.
This source of healthy fat helps reduce inflammation in the muscles and joints, which can help relieve soreness, reduce the risk of injury and maintain flexibility.
“Omega-3 fatty acids also help individuals with osteoarthritis, improving joint flexibility and reducing pain. Eat fish on a regular basis to get beneficial omega-3s, or consume flax or walnuts as plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids,” according to one source.
Water really is the miracle nutrient. It is the most important of the six essential nutrients our bodies need to remain healthy. (The other five nutrients are protein, fat, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins). We need water to digest our food, absorb the other nutrients from the food we eat and get rid of waste. Water also helps keep our joints and muscles hydrated and well lubricated, which can improve flexibility as well as reduce the risk of injuries.
(Read here to learn how to properly fuel your body for working out (this includes stretching)).
And don’t forget to take a comprehensive nutrient test to see if you have any nutritional deficiencies or imbalances. If you do, you can work with a competent healthcare professional on possibly tweaking your diet and/or including quality supplements in your healthcare regimen.
It’s worth noting too that stretching may help improve posture and relieve tension and stress. So clearly, Coach Wylie didn’t consider all of these benefits when he went on his anti-stretching rant. But ultimately, it depends on what is best for you personally whether you are a professional athlete or not.
Finally, always consult a qualified healthcare professional when it comes to exercise routines, diet or anything else related to your physical and mental wellbeing to ensure you are doing what’s right for you.
Enjoy your healthy life!
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.