Training | POSTED August 30, 2023

Do You Really Need to Stretch to Be Healthy?


It often seems like there’s a long list of healthy to-dos. Get 8 hours of sleep, eat your fruit and veggies, lift weights, take walks, and stretch before and after workouts. Don’t get us started on the trendy ‘hacks’ either! Who has time for apple-cider vinegar in the morning and cold showers. Overwhelming, right? I get that feeling. At Ivy Training, your time and effort matters. We believe it’s crucial to step back and assess which actions really impact health and are worth our focus. So today let’s unpack stretching and ask two questions:

  1. First, is being flexible important for injury prevention?
  2. Second, do we need to stretch or even be flexible in the first place?

Let’s dive right in.

Stretch the truth

In gym conversations, you’ll often hear, “Make sure you stretch beforehand to prevent injuries.” Defining flexibility, we consider it as the “intrinsic properties of body tissues that determine maximal joint range of motion without causing injury [1].” Another phrasing describes it as the “ability of skeletal muscle and tendon to lengthen [2].” The notion of preparing through stretching seems logical. However, like numerous long-standing fitness recommendations, it lacks undeniable evidence. The connection between flexibility and safety is tenuous. In this article, we won’t delve deep into this complex relationship. Just remember that “No clear relationship can be described between flexibility and injury that is applicable to all sports and levels of play”. While increased flexibility is important for performance in some sports that rely on extremes of motion for movement, decreased flexibility may actually increase economy of movement in sports which use only the mid portion of range of motion [2].”

Stretch is specific

We’ve got to give your body some credit. It’s smarter than you think. Muscles have viscoelastic properties. This means that they possess viscosity (resistance to deformation) and elasticity (ability to return to their original shape). These properties influence how muscles respond to external forces, like stretching during movement or contracting during muscle actions. This happens more or less outside of your conscious control. Moreover, strength and stretching are specific. Suffice to say, training movement itself develops the physical qualities we need. In fact, of course suiting our own bias, resistance training has been shown to improve flexibility as much as static stretching. A randomised control trial from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning showed “the results of this preliminary study suggest that carefully constructed full-range resistance training regimens can improve flexibility as well as the typical static stretching regimens employed in conditioning programs [3].”

Stretch your understanding

Very few things in fitness are black and white. It’s important to take a balanced view and understand where individual preferences come into play. Simply put, some people enjoy the feeling of stretching – we are all for it. However, setting time aside for stretching represents an opportunity cost. Regarding stretching as a recovery tool, a systematic review of randomised controlled trials states: “For now, recommendations on whether post-exercise stretching should be applied for the purposes of recovery are misleading, as the (insufficient) data that is available does not support those claims [4].” Simply put, we don’t recommend static stretching to better your health, reduce the incidence injury or improve recovery time. Quality nutrition, consistent sleep and a well balanced, thorough program addressing an individual’s particular needs will outperform the benefits of static stretching every time.

We hope you enjoyed this brief dive into stretching. If you’re looking to best use your time and resources to improve your health, you can contact us here.

References:

  1. Nuzzo JL. The Case for Retiring Flexibility as a Major Component of Physical Fitness. Sports Med. 2020 May;50(5):853-870. doi: 10.1007/s40279-019-01248-w. PMID: 31845202.
  2. Gleim GW, McHugh MP. Flexibility and its effects on sports injury and performance. Sports Med. 1997 Nov;24(5):289-99. doi: 10.2165/00007256-199724050-00001. PMID: 9368275.
  3. Morton SK, Whitehead JR, Brinkert RH, Caine DJ. Resistance training vs. static stretching: effects on flexibility and strength. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Dec;25(12):3391-8. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31821624aa. PMID: 21969080.
  4. Afonso, J., Clemente, F., Nakamura, F., Morouço, P., Sarmento, H., Inman, R., & Ramirez-Campillo, R. (2021, May 5). The Effectiveness of Post-exercise Stretching in Short-Term and Delayed Recovery of Strength, Range of Motion and Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Frontiers in Physiology, 12, Article 677581. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2021.677581