After a good night’s sleep or sitting in a chair for hours on end, a good, long stretch can be as rewarding as that first sip of morning coffee. What is it about a morning stretch that feels so good? Why, on the other hand, is it sometimes uncomfortable, and possibly painful, when we stretch for fitness reasons? Clearly, obtaining adequate flexibility is an important aspect of physical fitness. However, is stretching the safest or most effective way to achieve it?
Does Stretching Prevent Injuries?
Believe it or not, no research study has ever shown evidence that stretching prevents injury. This has always been an assumption by the masses. However, research concludes that if joints are surrounded and supported by stronger muscles, the chance of any trauma is reduced. Also, if a joint becomes more flexible without a corresponding increase in muscular strength, injury probability is increased.
Is Stretching Needed?
For most people, stretching procedures performed to increase flexibility are unnecessary for the performance of daily activities or health and fitness purposes. Certain forms of stretching procedures are sometimes necessary when administered by physicians or physical therapists to bring back normal range of motion to a joint or muscular structure that has been injured. Excessive ranges of joint motion seen in gymnasts, martial arts, dancers, etc. are undesirable for the typical person. Such extreme flexibility can cause joint laxity, leading to problems in joint stability.
What’s the Best Way to Enhance Flexibility?
You’ll notice the above question doesn’t say, "increase" flexibility. Stretching isn’t the safest, or even the most appropriate, way to achieve it. Flexibility is primarily determined by muscular strength. Without muscles, we wouldn’t move at all. Contrary to popular belief, stronger muscles are generally more flexible muscles. You can’t make a rubber band more elastic by continuously stretching it to its limits. Constantly pulling and tugging on a rubber band will eventually cause it to become permanently over-stretched.
To enhance the elasticity of a rubber band, you must somehow change its molecular structure. It’s the same for the muscles. This can be achieved through proper strength training. Performing strengthening exercises that work each joint throughout a full, pain-free range of motion is safer and more productive than stretching. As muscles become stronger, they experience superior blood flow, making them more pliable and more elastic-more conducive to allowing the joints to flex and extend throughout a normal range of motion.
Strong muscles aren’t tight muscles. If they were, do you think gymnasts would be able to do what they do? So, stretch in the morning if it feels good. But, if you value the integrity of your joints, ask yourself, "How much flexibility is enough?" IBI