To stretch or not to stretch, that is the question. There still remains so much confusion and controversy over whether we should be stretching prior exercise or not. So what’s the science behind it?
Some people believe that we should be stretching our muscles before we hit the gym whilst others are adamant that stretching will predispose us to injury. It’s a debate that has been raging on in the fitness industry for years.
Both views are correct to some degree but the most important aspect of stretching is to ensure we are stretching out the muscles that actually need stretching and strengthening the areas that been have weakened by these tight muscles.
2 reasons why you must stretch
There are two main reasons to stretch. The first reason is to correct muscular imbalances and the second reason is to stretch out if you are generally tight all over!
Muscles can be classified into two categories; tonic and phasic.
Tonic muscles are used for postural function and joint stability and tend to react to faulty loading by shortening and tightening, these are the muscles we need to stretch.
From my experience assessing many clients, these areas are typically the neck, chest, hip flexors, hamstrings, lower back and calves. A postural assessment, ideally by a CHEK Practitioner, will reveal which specific muscles need stretching.
Phasic muscles are primarily used for prime mover activities and react to faulty loading by lengthening and weakening. Faulty loading is caused by poor training methods and technique, which are both very common.
This pulls the skeleton out of alignment, increases spinal curvatures, tilts the pelvis and decreases rotational efficiency (golfers take note!)
See for yourself if you need to stretch
We also need to stretch if we are generally tight. An effective assessment is the Rocobado 9-Point Flexibility Index, which rates our degree of general flexibility. It is based on scoring points out of nine in the following tests over on the next page.
Points 3-4: Thumb can touch wrist (1 point for each found positive)
Points 5-6: Elbow hyperextends to 10° (1 point for each elbow found positive)
Points 7-8: Knee extends to 10° (1 point for each knee found positive)
Point 9: Can place palms on floor with straight legs (1 point)
Based on the total scores:
0-2 is Hypo-mobility. These people typically need regular stretching.
3-4 is Mild Hyper-mobility. Specific muscle testing is needed to find out which muscles need to be stretched accordingly.
5-9 is Marked Hyper-mobility. Those that score high are very flexible and need specific exercises to tighten up the joints and reduce laxity. They don’t need to stretch that often.
Stretching the muscles that are short and tight and strengthening the muscles that are long and weak will improve energy flow through the body and restore misalignment and imbalance, which will prevent injury, headaches, pain and reduced range of motion.
Seek out a health and fitness practitioner that can assess your posture and prescribe the corrective exercises you need. If you’re not assessing then you’re guessing!