You Should Be Stretching: Why, How, and When to Do It Right

A topic we have all heard varying advice on. There is so much information out there, it can be overwhelming and unclear. One cause of the ambiguity is the necessity of an individualized a Stretching: First off, why should I stretch? Great question! From the expert PT I always recommend stretching to improve mobility, function, and overall mood? Have you ever stretched and not felt better afterwards? When we utilize deliberate and focal stretching it will help maintain (or increase) flexibility of a muscle. When this happens it will your muscles will start to respond quicker and better to whatever you will ask them to do. Additionally, if you stretch your muscles, over time they will lengthen. Conversely, if you don't stretch them, over time they will shorten. This shortened state of our muscles results in decreased range of motion, poor function, and predisposition to injury. Stretching and a well-rounded strength-training program is the one-two punch that we need to stay at a high level throughout our life.


In this blog article I’m going to cover two main stretching approaches, we will be analyzing static stretching and dynamic stretching. Static stretching consists of holding a single position at the end range of the targeted muscle for a specific length of time. Dynamic stretching consists of controlled motion through a particular range, often mimicking sport-specific movements. Dynamic stretching may also include holding the muscle at end range for a brief period but is typically described as “in and out” of the full range of motion.

HOW should I stretch? Static? Dynamic? Do I hold it for 30 seconds, a minute, FOREVER? Should I stretch before or after my work out? These are all questions we will be addressing. The short answer, it depends! I know the answer you were totally looking for.

Stretching should be an individualized program. A soccer player will have different flexibility requirements than an office worker, and a weekend warrior, therefore should they all should have a different stretching routine. As a doctor of physical therapy and a movement professional we help our patients understand what they require in terms of flexibility, along with directing them where to focus their stretching routine.


How should you stretch? If the goal is to optimize muscle function within a wide range, dynamic stretching will be the best option. In sports that includes jumping, cutting, and hopping, dynamic stretching will provide the best performance in regards to power and high-speed activities throughout the full range of motion.[1] So prior to competition or activity, most of your stretching should be dynamic. Our muscles are meant to work within their full range of motion. Introducing your muscles to the entire range in a more controlled environment, with your dynamic stretching routine, will prepare them for any movement you may encounter during the upcoming event.


Does your sport aka life require extreme ranges of motion or overall improvements in mobility? If you answered yes to that question then static stretching has proven to be more effective than dynamic stretching.[2] It should be noted that dynamic stretching is still effective at increasing muscle flexibility and something I promote even with my patients that have a more static stretching program. However, if you are focused on increasing or maintaining end ranges of muscle flexibility, static stretching will be your best option. While experts do not agree on a standard time, 3-4 sets of between 15-30 seconds of static stretching have demonstrated improvements in flexibility. [3]

With these goals in mind, now the question: WHEN should I stretch? Many of us grew up holding a hamstring stretch for 30 seconds before our soccer game or fitness class. Unfortunately, this may not be the best approach. While the muscle will respond to prolonged stretching over time, studies have shown static stretching prior to physical activity may actually impair performance.[4] The best advice for stretching prior to an activity would be comprised of a general warm-up (bike, jog), stretching to increase joint range of motion (dynamic stretching), as well as any activity specific movement patterns.[5] In short, your stretching and warm-up prior to your activity should look, smell, and taste like what you are about to do! of a general warm-up (bike, jog), stretching to increase joint range of motion (dynamic stretching), as well as


I hope you found these tips and suggestions helpful. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to reach out. I can be contact at kelly@rehabunited.com or 206-524-4977.



Happy Stretching!


Kelly

[1] - DOI: 10.1519/R-16944.1

[2] - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3737866/

[3] - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3273886/

[4] - DOI: 10.1007/s00421-011-1879-2

[5] - DOI: 10.1519/00126548-200212000-00006


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