Many teachers and therapists promote stretching as a way to stay both injury-free and as a recovery tool. While stretching can certainly feel good, it is not always the key. What does stretching do for us and what does it not do?
In December of 2015, Behm et al, did a meta-analysis on the different effects of static stretching (SS), proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) and dynamic stretching (DS) (Behm et al, 2016).
SS is the common stretch that we know as holding a stretch on a muscle for a specific time. PNF stretching has three stages: firstly, an outside party performs a stretch on you, secondly, you contract the muscle that is being stretched or resist and lastly, you relax while the outside party pushes you deeper into the stretch. DS is when a limb is moved repeatedly through its full range of motion.
According to Behm et al, static stretching has either no or negative affect on muscular performance performed after stretching, especially when stretches are held for longer times but also for stretches held for less than 60 seconds. When stretches are held for shorter time, they have less negative effects on muscular performance. Therefore, if stretching is necessary for some reason, it is advised not to hold the stretch longer than 30 seconds (Behm et al, 2016).
Stretching has been shown positive effect in range of motion, so stretching makes us more flexible. According to a study on the relationship of strength, flexibility and throwing speed by Schwesig et al, range of motion (flexibility) does not correlate with strength, and furthermore, flexibility of the shoulder joint does not play a significant role in throwing power. With this in mind, we can deduce that if flexibility is hindering our performance, stretching is beneficial but does not seem to correlate with increased muscular performance (Schwesig et al, 2016).
According to a article by Witvrouw et al, the current scientific literature does not support the hypothesis of stretching being injury preventative (Witrouw et al, 2004). When stretching has been researched as an injury preventative measure, it has been successful when prescribed as a part of a wholesome warm-up program prior to the exercise. “I make my clients stretch but it is just one part of a big program” (Porander 2020).
Stretching is a controversial topic in the sports science world. An article published in April 2020 on Pain Science's website says that stretching is mostly meaningless compared to the other physical activities (Pain Science, 2020), while articles like Harvard Health Letter say it is essential (Harvard Health Publishing, 2010 - 2020).
I tend to fall into the earlier group after having stretched intensively but carefully for the last five years with basically nothing to show for it.