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Stretching the truth

New studies dispel common myths about flexibility training

Flexibility training is a big part of fitness. From celebrity gurus to local personal trainers and online bloggers, everyone seems to be saying the same thing: Stretching is good for you. We’re told to stretch before we work out and then to stretch after. We’re told it will make us faster, stronger and full of energy (well-paired with the promised increase in flexibility). But is this the whole truth, or is it all too good to be true? With most people already struggling to find time to work out, is all this stretching really worth it?

Myth: Stretching will reduce chances of injury
In 2004, the US-based Center for Disease Control released a report that compiled and analyzed the results of various studies to see if they could find any patterns in the benefits of stretching. What they found was something entirely different. “We could not find a benefit,” states Stephen B Thacker, a director at the CDC. A 2006 report released in the American College of Sports Medicine Journal (ACSMJ) concludes that there is simply not enough evidence to endorse stretching as a way to prevent injuries among competitive or even recreational athletes.


Myth: Stretching after a workout will relieve next-day soreness

Everyone knows that a good post-workout stretch will keep you from feeling the pain after you hit the grind, right? Wrong. According to the Cochrane Review, an independent and internationally recognized leader in healthcare research, there is no evidence to support the claim that stretching after exercise prevents delayed onset muscle soreness. The 2006 ACSMJ report, however, did find that stretching does help with acute muscle soreness (pain you feel during or right after your workout).

Myth: Stretching will increase athletic performance
Not according to Dr Ian Shrier of SMBD-Jewish General Hospital in Montreal. His analysis, published in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine in 2004 found that acute stretching (stretching right before exercise) actually reduced an athlete’s performance in areas including muscle force, speed and torque. While he did find that stretching could help with running efficiency, this was limited to very short distances.

So, is there any point to stretching?
Of course there is, because let’s face it, it feels good. It helps combat stiff muscles which become constricted from sitting at a desk, driving a car for long periods and hovering over a smart phone all day. By stretching, we restore the body’s natural range of motion, compensating for the shortening of the muscles which can cause postural issues and physical tension. Additionally, stretching has been proven to increase the circulation of blood which helps promote healthy organ function (think brain, heart, liver and so on) by increasing the flow of oxygen.

The best time to stretch is during periods of rest, like when you’re at home watching television rather than when you’re at the gym or on the field. For those who want to prevent injury and increase athletic performance, the best way is by consistent training and strength building. “If the time you spend stretching,” advises Thacker, “causes you to lose time from something else — more running, strength training, or stability exercises — then you might be better off spending the time on that something else.”