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New studies come out all the time talking about different kinds of exercise, but you can’t find much of the stories in news media, so unless you are a college professor or in the field of exercise science, it may be hard to get up to speed on the latest research.
As a student of health promotion, I learned stretching is key to increased flexibility, decreased injury and continued mobility as you age. I also learned stretches should be held for around 30 seconds (called static stretching – no bouncing) after a brief warm-up before your workout.
A few years after graduating, I managed a fitness center and some graduate students who worked there were conducting research about stretching; specifically, whether or not stretching prior to a workout or sporting event reduced the risk of injury.
At the time, I thought, “That’s ridiculous! Of course it helps. That’s what we have always been taught!” But that thinking is akin to saying, “that’s what we’ve always done .”
Fast-forward to 2015, and despite numerous studies, no one has been able to prove pre-workout stretching reduces the risk of injury. Static stretches have been pushed aside for more intense types of warmups, like dynamic stretching. Dynamic stretching includes things like high knees, jumping jacks, skipping or walking lunges. It does a better job of increasing flexibility because it is included as part of the movement.
And as far as its effect on athletic performance, one thing is clear: static stretching before performing an activity that requires explosive strength like Olympic weight lifting or track sprinting actually hinders performance.
What do you do? Stretch or not stretch?The important thing is to realize why you are stretching. If you do it because it feels good, keep doing it. If you’re doing it prior to competing at your local track event, skip it. The last thing you want to do before competition is an activity that could reduce your effectiveness!
While it may not prevent injury like once was thought, it definitely has health benefits.
For example, if you sit at a computer all day long (like so many of us do), standing up to stretch every hour has shown decreased risk for metabolic disease, decreased waist circumference and lowered cholesterol.
Another reason to keep stretching is to maintain range of motion (movement around a joint) as we age. Although flexibility decreases the older we get, it mostly decreases due to lack of use. Keep moving now so you can keep moving later!
So tell us, what's your favorite stretch?
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