One of the most common areas of confusion patients have, and ask us about, is when is the best time to stretch. More specifically, whether they should be stretching before they exercise or play sports.
You might be surprised by this question, as 20 or 30 years ago, it was commonplace knowledge that OF COURSE you should stretch before any intense physical activity.
But things change.
Just like they used to recommend bed rest for anyone with back pain 20 years ago, all the research now shows that 95% of time, bed rest and inactivity is the WORST thing you can do. In fact, it oftentimes makes the problem significantly worse.
Same thing for stretching. All the research now shows that stretching COLD muscles, before any type of intense physical activity, not only doesn’t help, it actually makes it MORE likely that you’ll suffer an injury. What?
Yep, that’s right, all the advice about stretching you’ve had for the past 30 or 40 or 50 years, since you were a kid, was wrong.
But that’s the point of science…to test hypotheses, to see if they’re accurate, and if they’re not, to find something that is more accurate, and works.
So what does the science show? Warming up is the best thing for us before any physical activity.
What does that mean? It means getting your blood flowing, getting your muscles activated and warmed up, maybe breaking a minor sweat, so that you’re warm, and your muscles start to loosen up a little.
Seems perfectly logical, and it is. Stretching a totally cold muscle, putting it under intense tension and stress, before it’s warmed up and loosened a bit, is one of the worse things you can do, and increases the chances you’ll get injured.
So what does warming up look like? If could be a brisk walk, it could be running on the spot for 60 seconds, or going for a light jog, or skipping, or doing jumping jacks, or whatever it takes to get your muscles and joints moving, to get the blood flowing, and to warm everything up.
By the way, is there a time when stretching is appropriate? Yes, and it’s the exact opposite of how most people do it. The best time to stretch, is not before activity, but AFTER, again, when the body is already warmed up. This is easiest time to actually lengthen muscle fibres, long term, and the least likely time you’ll injure yourself stretching.
If you have any questions about any of this, please feel free to ask. Dr. Byron Mackay