As a child I was huge fan of Gumby and I enjoyed nothing more than giving Stretch Armstrong’s arms a good old, well, stretch. One thing I noticed was that neither Stretch nor Gumby ever sustained a musculoskeletal injury. Nope, not once ever! Was this because they were so stretchy, or do cartoon characters simply not get injured? More importantly, this has prompted me to ask, does stretching before exercise actually do anything? Anything at all?
Muscle soreness (DOMS):
With regard to muscle soreness, it doesn’t matter whether you stretch before or after exercise. In fact, it doesn’t actually matter if you stretch at all! Say what?!
Yep, a Cochrane Review – which is basically the Rolls Royce of scientific studies – found stretching to have no substantial effect on muscle soreness in the days after intense exercise (1). Don’t give in though, we’ll blog on the best ways to conquer DOMS in the coming days/weeks.
A Cochrane review (Rolls Royce) also did not find stretching to reduce the incidence of soft tissue running injuries (2). Another, Cochrane review found stretching to have no effect on hamstring injury (3). If you weren’t convinced yet, two other separate systematic reviews (the Porsche of scientific studies) found stretching did not reduce the odds of getting a sports related injury at all (4, 5). Simply put, stretching on its own ain’t going to prevent an injury. Your counter argument, stretch fanatics?
Flexibility and sports performance:
Well your counter argument might be here. Yes, before you give up on stretching, there is good quality scientific evidence that long-term regular stretching improves flexibility (6). Yay! If you’re inflexible or your sport requires a lot of flexibility then this could lead to improved performance, although not directly proven (6). However, if you stretch heavily before a sport, it may decrease your explosive power during said sport, as the muscle will be longer and therefore take longer to contract (shorten) (6, 7).
Is it healthful:
DOMS and injury prevention: Nope, consistently proven that it doesn’t work.
Our verdict: Unhealthful.
Flexibility and sports performance: Improves flexibility, which could improve performance. Stretch during the week, but limit stretching before your sport, as this might decrease your explosive power.
Our verdict: Slightly healthful.
I hope this has been healthful.