We all love a nice stretch – whether you’re loosening your hammy after a big run or aiming for a cool insta yoga pose, you’ve probably given stretching a go.
But not all stretches are created equal.
Here’s what you need to know about stretching – when to do it, how to do it and what it’s good for.
Flexibility is the aim of the stretching game
Whilst many of us stretch to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS – aka sore muscles the day after you exercise) – research tells us it does little to avoid this uncomfortable phenomenon. Unfortunately stretching also does not provide any injury prevention. In fact, it actually can have a negative effect on performance by reducing muscle strength immediately after a stretch.
The main aim of stretching should be to improve your flexibility or range of movement in your joints and to reduce muscle tightness.
But how flexible you need to be really depends on your fitness goals – if you’re a yogi, gymnast or dancer you’ll want more flexibility than if weights are your thing.
Your stretching options
Dynamic warm-ups (aka moving stretches or slow controlled lunges and squats or similar) is ideal for a warm-up, while static or PNF ought to be done afterwards.
1. Static stretching
Unless you’re doing something that requires lots of flexibility, such as gymnastics or dancing, forget holding stretches prior to a workout. Stretching has actually been shown to increase your injury risk right before you head out onto a sporting field or a run so save it till after you are done.
2. Dynamic stretching
Dynamic or moving stretches are what you should be doing before heading out onto your run or onto the sporting field. Practicing similar movements and using similar muscles to your sport will help. It involves things like lunging and twisting, high kicks, shoulder circles and side bends.
Short for proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, PNF stretching is best done with a partner. The idea is that you push against them, then get them to push you further into the stretch. PNF increases the stretch of the muscle that attaches to the bone because the muscle is contracted, then when you relax and let it go, you should be able to take the muscle to a further stretch. Research suggests PNF is more effective than static stretching, and you can use a wall or band to DIY if you don’t have access to a partner.
Just remember — dynamic stretches before exercise static after. PNF stretches are slightly superior if you want to improve your flexibility.