Stretching is something that’s commonly undertaken before and/or after exercise, as it’s perceived to loosen muscles, which prepares them for a workout and reduces the risk of injury.
What may be less known is that there are multiple types of stretches that might have different effects on different muscles and therefore different outcomes. Static Stretching (SS) is the most common form and is where a muscle is held in a stretched position for 10 – 60 seconds. SS is perceived to improve the range of muscular motion and performance and reduce injury. Dynamic Stretching (DS) lengthens a muscle through motion, for example, straight leg swinging to pull and lengthen hamstring muscles and tendons. Finally, Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF), commonly used by sports scientists and physiotherapists, involves holding an SS, then contracting the muscle, then holding another SS. This type of stretching is thought to help release and lengthen muscles and allow a greater range of motion.
With various types of stretching available, it’s difficult to know which one works best for specific outcomes. A group of sports scientists in Western Australia reviewed the current literature on stretching and came to a few conclusions. They found that all types of stretching improved muscular performance. It was difficult to ascertain which type of stretching was best as each type had different effects on various muscles. A consistent benefit found with all stretching was an improvement in the Range Of Motion (ROM), which lasted during exercise and for at least half an hour after completion. No form of exercise was found to reduce the rate of injury.
While stretching wasn’t found to reduce injury rates in this study, the researchers concluded that it is possibly beneficial to include warm up and warm down SS and DS in your exercise regime. Stretching may be the best way to improve the range of motion in joints prior to working out. Start slowly and gradually build up the intensity and duration of each hold as you progress.