Have you been told that static stretching is bad and doesn't prevent injuries? Most of us have been coached to avoid stretching altogether. We either don’t stretch at all before a workout, or use dynamic stretches instead.
For me, stretching more has been life-changing, with increased joint mobility, reduced pain and even injury prevention. Despite what you may have been told, a well-balanced mix of cardio warm-ups, dynamic stretching and static stretching can make a real difference in your physical health.
Finding the right warm-up routine for your body and your specific physical activities is a process that will take some trial and error, but the benefits are well worth the effort.
The Benefits of Daily Stretching
Daily stretching can be spread throughout the day, mixed with short walks and any stretch for just minutes. But it is recommended to add a stretching session after exercise or on stressful days or as a cooldown to cardio activity.
Helps decompress: Both physically and mentally, stretching allows you to relax, brings stress levels down and puts you in a better mindset. Stress in the body makes muscles tight and stiff, leading to tension headaches and lower back pain. Stretching helps to relieve aches from common soreness and tension. Stretching also increases blood flow throughout the body and the brain, increasing feel-good hormones like serotonin. It also reduces stress, anxiety and general fatigue. Just look at this stretch-stress study.
Increased flexibility and joint range of motion: This major benefit also allows you to be more balanced with your posture and will help you prevent injuries. From avoiding common daily aches and pains to being more durable during workouts and athletic activity, stretching reduces pain and injury through soft tissue flexibility and joint mobility.
This Range of Motion study has some interesting findings, but there are conflicting studies stating that too much ROM may cause more injury. So there is a spectrum, and finding that sweet spot for individuals and athletes is largely a personal preference.
Helps with treading water and swimming: For many non-swimming athletes, swimming and treading are more difficult, mainly due to the lack of shoulder, hip, knee and ankle mobility and tight leg, back and shoulder muscles.
Cooling down after a workout: Most people who stretch will stretch on the back end of a workout, but often this section is skipped due to busy lives and lack of time. It shouldn’t be because stretching helps us move better. When you bend over to pick up a heavy box or even a pen on the floor, you can throw your back out just by bending over at the hips if your back, hips and legs are tight (lacking flexibility and mobility).
Many find reading studies like this meta-analysis looking into post-exercise stretching for recovery purposes confusing. While this study states that the evidence does not support stretching for recovery, it does not mention its benefits to reduce muscle tightness, delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) or inflammation. But it’s important to know your cooldown does not have to be limited to stretching. Massage, compression and cooling are all ideal for post-exercise recovery.
Sitting is the new smoking (or is it?): Sitting too much is not good, but is it actually worse than smoking? Most likely not, but getting up every 30-40 minutes for a quick walk and stretching the legs, hips and shoulders can reduce stress and back pain and help your productivity and mood. Sitting too much is one of the biggest reasons we must actively pursue moving more and adding some stretching into our daily habits. But smoking is a much worse habit.
Much of the distrust of stretching largely comes from studies and anecdotal evidence with static stretching and strength training (just look at this study). Conflicting studies are abundant, refuting each other with discussions on injury prevention, strength or power impairment, recovery, DOMS and inflammation.
More studies dispute the findings of other studies on the effectiveness of small-dose stretching in strength training.
For over two decades, I have experienced a significant decrease in injury rates by incorporating more stretching into my daily routine, but people (myself included) need more flexibility. Even when strength training, short stretching sessions of 30-45 seconds of a particular group of muscles have been helpful during and after lifts in both performance and post-exercise soreness. By spending less time sitting and more time standing at work (and by incorporating thorough warm-up and cooldown sessions into exercise routines), I have seen the benefits of maintaining flexibility and staying limber.
Don't let naysayers discourage you from caring for your physical health. It's up to you to find the right mix of warm-ups and stretching that works for your body. So embrace the opportunity to explore the benefits of stretching and improve your overall physical health and well-being. The evidence is out there, waiting for you to discover the benefits of embracing flexibility and injury prevention. A life with less pain and immobility is a few months away after starting a stretching and moving routine.
Many have been told that no evidence supports stretching, flexibility or injury prevention. Over the years, I have found a good mix of cardio warm-ups, dynamic stretching and static stretching works for me. Finding the right combination of warm-up that works for you and your chosen activity is typically a process of trial and error.
Related Websites and Articles for Stretching Research and Advice
• Harvard Health – Importance of Stretching
• Is Sitting the New Smoking Study
• Reduced Injury Rate
• Static stretch research
Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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