It was, for a very long time one of the biggest sacred cows in all of fitness: You have to stretch before and after exercise to improve performance and prevent injuries. This idea has been drilled into our brains for years, as children in gym class, and now as adults at gyms and fitness classes. “You have to stretch” – It is often stated as a religious mantra. Just about all of us believed this, myself included. The only people opposed to stretching were considered heretics, or more likely just lazy or idiotic.
Luckily, there are no sacred cows in science. If an idea doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, if there is no evidence to support it, it gets slaughtered. Thanks to many scientific studies done on stretching, we now know it doesn’t improve athletic performance or prevent most injuries. Don’t believe me? Here it is:
The impact of stretching on sports injury risk: a systematic review of the literature.
Stretching was not significantly associated with a reduction in total injuries (OR = 0.93, CI 0.78-1.11) and similar findings were seen in the subgroup analyses.
Wow! In spite of this, telling people they don’t need to stretch is considered a radical or even harmful idea even by some personal trainers. So many people continue to advocate this practice, even though the science isn’t there to support them. Next time someone tells you you have to stretch, politely show them the evidence that demonstrates there are no benefits from regular stretching. Now this is just about stretching when it comes to general exercise, I don’t think this applies to physical therapy. And “warming up” isn’t the same thing as stretching; warming up does improve performance and may prevent injuries, especially if the temperature is cold. Don’t worry, if you don’t stretch you won’t become as stiff as a statue.
Stretching may even be harmful if done before some types of exercise, since it may lead to overpronation and injury. It is important to note that Running economy is negatively related to sit-and-reach test performance in international-standard distance runners.
Because of the weight of the evidence, I almost never stretch and I do not advocate it. All the juggling and joggling I do is made possible through a fitness regimen that excludes stretching. For similar reasons, I don’t do yoga, which I consider overrated(relative to the hype), although I don’t doubt it helps many people because just about any exercise is better than no exercise. I’m not saying yoga is inherently bad, just that it doesn’t have much to offer me. If you enjoy it and you benefit from it, I have no argument with you. If you don’t like juggling, that’s fine too.
Whatever you do, a fitness program based on fact, and science is going to be better than a fitness program based on pseudoscience.
Photo source – C.P the Wild Juggler