Some recent studies have suggested that stretching isn’t all it was once cracked up to be – that is doesn’t improve performance or decrease the risk of injury. Some studies have actually suggested that stretching could increase our injury risk. However, the American College of Sports Medicine still recommends that we stretch our major muscle groups, at least two days a week. So, what should we believe?
Stretching before working-out is most controversial. In fact, a recent study conducted at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas shows that static stretching (holding a stretch for 20 to 30 seconds) prior to exercise can actually weaken muscles. Instead, you should warm up your muscles by increasing blood flow to your muscles and raising body heat through exercise-specific aerobic activity. For example, if you’ll be running, warm up with a light jog. If you’ll be playing a sport, mimic the movements you’ll be expected to complete while playing.
Loose muscles, though, are important in order to get the most out of our exercise routines. If one muscle group is tight, it can prevent other muscle groups from working most effectively and can both compromise your workout performance and increase your risk of injury.
So, how should you stretch most safely? Only stretch after a workout (not before) and hold a stretch for between 20 and 30 seconds to adequately lengthen muscle fibers while still keeping injury risk low. Still nervous about the risks? Try stretching using the Active-Isolated Technique, which involves contracting one muscle group while stretching the other for no longer that 2 seconds each.