The Science of Stretching

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Streee-ee-eeetch! It feels good even to think about having a nice long stretch, doesn’t it? The post-workout, post-cooldown stretching session is a staple of almost anyone who exercises. But what does stretching actually do?

Here are a few important facts about stretching to keep in mind when you visit your WFCC club, or when you exercise outdoors or elsewhere.

Three types of stretching

According to the Go Ask Alice! health and fitness blog at Columbia University:

There are three main types of stretching techniques: static stretching (holding a stretch for an extended period of time), dynamic or ballistic stretching (moving your muscles towards their maximum range of motion in a bouncing manner), and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (alternating passive stretching and isometric contractions). Static stretching is the most commonly used form of stretching, and the other two are generally done under the supervision of athletic trainers or physical therapists due to the risk of injury.

Stretching makes you more flexible.

A 2006 review by Dr. Michael Yessis found that athletes, especially but not exclusively runners, should stretch before and after exercise in order to increase their effective range of motion. The dynamic or ballistic stretching mentioned above – like the stretch-and-yawn we do when we wake up in the morning, or the classic cat stretch – is the best kind of stretch for increasing range of motion and building healthier, more limber muscles.

Yoga and Pilates involve a lot of dynamic stretching exercises, which are excellent for your muscles. We offer lots of options here at WFCC for these classes.

Stretching prevents injury.

A 2007 study by Drs. Woods, Bishop and Jones demonstrated that a properly focused program of warm-up and stretching could actually prevent injury to the skeletal muscles – that is, the ones that are connected to your bones, and the ones that you use when you’re working out – during exercise. Because muscle injuries account for more than 30% of total sports injuries, this is a very important finding. If you’re working with a personal trainer here at WFCC, she can help you devise a warm-up and stretching routine that can help prevent injury.

Stretching helps for flexibility and injury prevention… but not for everything.

There’s still a lot of controversy about stretching. Go Ask Alice touches on this controversy in the aforementioned blog post, and there are always new articles coming out that reach different conclusions about the effects of stretching on the muscles.  For instance, according to a systematic review conducted in 2002 by Dr. Robert D. Herbert and physiotherapist Michael Gabriel, stretching before and after exercise doesn’t seem to affect whether you’ll feel sore the next day. That said, there are still good reasons to stretch – including the fact that it generally feels great!

Do you stretch before and after a workout? Why or why not?