Stretching is one of those things that trainers and hardcore lifters never disagree on. It's either a waste of time or it cures cancer. There is nothing in between. Usually, both sides argue until they are blue in the face, if they don't get punched first.
When coaches argue about stretching, it's never nice. There is much verbal abuse, hair pulling, bloated breasts and spilled blood. Hey, just kidding about the blood. But as with most opposing viewpoints, the truth lies somewhere in between.
Here five trainers share their truths about stretching to help you be more informed about the benefits of stretching. Muscle and fitness prevailed
Here they discuss the right time to stretch, if any, how long it should take, the types of stretches that improve performance, and the stretches to avoid.
When is the right time to stretch while exercising?
The five trainers all agree that static stretching before lifting weights is a waste of time. dr Pollen and Dr. Bacon agree that prolonged static stretching causes small, temporary losses in strength and power. Bacon says, "If static stretching is done right before a workout, static stretching can lead to losses in explosive power, strength, and muscular endurance."
Pollen adds, "If static stretching is important to you, save it for post-workout or a separate session instead."
However, according to Bacon, static stretching is not a complete waste of time. He says it "can improve mobility over time and serve to effectively lower blood pressure after resistance training." Chris Cooper adds that "static stretching is used between sets to increase blood flow to your muscles and when you want to cool down from a workout."
Static stretching after a workout helps return the muscle to its resting length more quickly, which can aid in faster recovery.
So, what are the right pre-workout stretches? Most coaches agree on that. What kind of stretch? Konforti likes dynamic stretches. "The most important thing before a workout is to increase blood flow, increase body temperature and lubricate key joints," he says. “To do that, you need dynamic stretching that moves those joints through a wide range of motion. You always move in a dynamic course, think Michael Phelps patting himself on the back before a race.”
He adds, “Flexibility stretches can be done between sets if you need to improve your range of motion for that exercise or anytime. What matters most is whether you do it or not.”
How long should a stretching session last?
This depends on the type of stretch and whether it's done before or after your workout. If you do dynamic stretching as part of your warm-up, according to Dr. Mike T. Nelson better to be efficient. "The shorter the better, so it's more like active mobility where you're moving towards the range of motion and ending it and then backing up and then back to the ending range," he says. Pollen agrees, adding that "dynamic stretching should only be about five to 10 minutes before a workout."
Bacon goes on to explain that dynamic stretching as part of a warm-up should be minimal in order to loosen up and feel prepared for the workout. Priority should be given to using movements that are similar to those you will be performing.
Post-workout stretching depends on whether your goal is recovery or flexibility, so it pays to plan for comfort. "Stretching for flexibility should be done in 10 to 15 minutes a day," says Konforti. "The stretching can go on forever, come up with a plan of attack and stick to it."
Pollen continues, some people may be better off with less work. "For some people, five to 10 minutes of static stretching after a workout is enough," he says. “Others enjoy much longer sessions (e.g. 30 to 45 minutes) separate from their workout. In general, the more intense your flexibility goals, the longer your sessions will last.”
But Cooper takes a different stance. “Stretching doesn't have to be a lengthy process. Select a few areas that need treatment and work in static hold for 30 to 60 seconds. Post-workout static stretching needs to be short and sweet, but if you plan to stretch for a longer period of time, it's best to devote a separate session to it.”
What stretches best improve performance?
When it comes to details, no one can agree, opinions vary widely. The trainers here had two schools of thought and now it's up to you to make up your own mind. Nelson takes a hard line on stretch and performance. "Pretty much none in my biased opinion," he says.
According to Bacon, "To my knowledge, there are no stretches that acutely improve performance, although people are more likely to believe they are performing well when stretching is part of their warm-up routine. There doesn't seem to be any magic recipe to saying, 'Do this move before you squat and your squat will shoot up.'”
On the other hand, Konforti has a slightly different opinion.
“The most effective stretches for increasing range of motion are PNF stretches. Often you are unable to lengthen a muscle because your nervous system feels unsafe in that stretched position. Stability comes before mobility. The hack keeps your body feeling stable and strong in these stretched positions. By contracting the muscle, as you do with PNF stretching, the nervous system signals the nervous system that your muscle is safe, allowing it to relax and go into a deeper stretch.”
Pollen takes a different route. “Dynamic stretching has been shown to improve performance. Examples of dynamic stretches include bodyweight movements such as reverse lunges (with a twist), inchworms, the world's largest stretch, and pogo jumps. However, if your target activity requires large ranges of motion, your performance will benefit from static stretching to access those ranges.”
Which routes are a waste of time?
As with many techniques in the health and fitness field, opinions on this question vary in degree. There's a saying, if it feels good, do it, but even stretches that feel good don't suit Nelson. "Research on the classic sit-and-reach hamstring stretch test shows an improvement in range of motion," he says. "The reason, however, is that the perception of how far you can go before you feel the same feeling is changing."
Static stretching dampens that feedback, allowing you to keep stretching with the same feeling, which I think is the WRONG direction - you want MORE feedback when you're nearing an end of the range of motion, not less when you're reducing the risk of injury would like.
Because of this, you must have a reason for stretching, otherwise stretching just for the sake of stretching is a waste of time, according to Cooper. "Stretches that are a waste of time are the ones you don't need to do for your goals or what your body needs.
If you find that you don't have a specific range of motion in an area, you may need to stretch. However, the feeling of tension does not automatically mean that you need to stretch. Avoid randomly picking stretches because you think you need them.”
Like the hips and hamstrings for comfort. “Many people spend a lot of time stretching hip flexors and hamstrings with no lasting results because these muscles are often weak and not too short. In many cases, these stretches do little because you need to strengthen these muscles to improve your range of motion. Remember, stability comes before mobility.”
That's why it's important to find the right stretches. Bacon says, “The trick is finding the right stretches in the right context for the right purpose. All types of stretches can be used to increase mobility, but to avoid sacrificing performance, dynamic pre-workout stretching is the way to go. What to avoid is less about avoiding certain stretches and more about intense, prolonged stretching before a workout.