Point blank. No one stretches enough, if at all. This truth is clear after working as a fitness coach for two decades now. But what difference does that make, if any, in your pursuit of improved levels of health and fitness, and weight loss?
Well, in spite of recent research that seems to confirm that your lack of limbering up might actually be working against you, I can tell you from both my personal experience in my own body and with the experience of the middle-aged clients I’ve worked with over the years, that very likely, this new research does not apply to you.
What the research says
Quickly, the new research that is cycling through the air waves concludes that for athletes who compete in short sprint or power-based activities that require jumping for example (like the long or high jump in track) stretching before the event can lengthen the muscles in a way that prevents them from contracting as forcefully and ultimately hinder performance.
Here is the New York Times article that details this research and that will provide you with further reading if you are so inclined.
So what does this mean for you?
Keep stretching as often and as much as you are willing to. Why? Because the findings of this new research don’t apply to you. For the most part, you are likely not in a high-level competition of any kind. The finding that stretching will limit or even hinder your performance only applies to a small, elite group of athletes, not people like you and me.
One of the most challenging aspects of beginning an exercise program after many years of inactivity is that your body will not respond the way you want it to. Your muscles will shorten, tighten, and ache and very often leave you feeling a lot older than your years. Stretching promotes recovery and prevents your body from breaking down as you embark on the work and deal with the physical demands of placing this new training stimulus on your body. Believe me, you will need stretching to survive the kind of exercise you need to perform to lose weight, for example.
In addition to enhancing your recovery, stretching will also help you maintain range of motion in your joints and prevent the kind of tightening up that often occurs post-exercise and that can ultimately limit your performance.
Sure, for the more highly trained athletes who were involved in this research, it appears that stretching before competition may actually hinder performance, though I remain skeptical. But for the rest of us, I’ve only witnessed the benefits that stretching, especially post exercise, can elicit.
To help you in your effort to stretch, one of the students from Madison Country Day School was here to job shadow today, and she created this quick fact sheet for you on stretching.
And, of course, here is a quick video that demonstrates 5 dynamic stretches you can start performing today to help limber you up pre and post-exercise.