Running & Fitness • 17.02.2017

The 3 Biggest Myths About Stretching

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Everyone knows that stretching is important, but many people don’t know why. There are a wide range of different views and opinions among athletes on this rather unpopular topic. Today we would like to take a closer look at the three biggest myths concerning stretching and share with you the truth behind the misconceptions.

Athletic woman stretching after her running session.

1. “If you do not stretch regularly, your muscles will shorten”

A shortening of the muscles is often blamed for poor flexibility, but the term “shortening” is misleading. Proprioceptors (sensory cells that transform mechanical forces into nerve impulses) send a signal to our brain when a joint has reached its maximum angle of flexion or extension. When the full range of motion is not routinely utilized, these receptors begin to lose their ability to tolerate the discomforting tension of stretching. This, in turn, results in a loss of flexibility. An actual shortening of the muscles in terms of a structural shortening of the sarcomeres (the smallest contractile part of the muscle) only occurs, apart from pathological conditions, after weeks of resting in a shortened position.

Man running in the park.

2. “Stretching helps relieve sore muscles”

You should never stretch in the case of acute muscle soreness. Intense stretching can further enlarge the tiny tears in your muscle fibers (microtrauma).

The chance of sore muscles is pretty high after very strenuous efforts or unfamiliar movements. This is why you should go easy on stretching after a hard workout. As a rule of thumb, the more intense and strenuous the workout, the more careful you need to be about stretching afterwards.

You should never stretch in the case of acute muscle soreness. Click To Tweet

In addition, long and intense static stretching interferes with the blood flow to the capillaries. This can slow down your recovery after your workout.

3. “Stretching reduces your risk of injury”

There is no scientific evidence that a stretched muscle is any less prone to injury. At the same time, there are specific stretches you can do before exercising to decrease the chance of injury. The difference is that these stretches do not focus on lengthening your muscles: dynamic stretching prepares your muscles as well as the passive supporting structures of your body (tendons, ligaments, cartilage, etc.) for the demands of the upcoming workout. It also improves your inter- and intramuscular coordination and increases blood flow to your muscles. This increased blood flow raises your muscle temperature, which is one of the most important factors in warming up.

Group of friends running together.

How to stretch properly:

  • Before your workout
    Dynamic stretches should be an integral part of every warm-up routine. They are especially important before intense workouts and quick and explosive movements that require a lot of flexibility. The big advantage of dynamic stretching is that it gently works your muscles up to their full range of motion instead of holding a maximum stretch for a long period of time like in static stretching. As a general rule, you should only stretch until you feel a slight pull. Stretching should never cause you pain.
  • After your workout
    Static stretches are best after your workout. These can help release tension in tight muscles. Stretch until you feel a slight pull and then hold that position for 20-90 seconds. Repeat the stretch several times until you feel the tension leave your muscles.

Flexibility is always a combination of mobilization, stretching and strengthening. Stretching on its own is beneficial, but it can never yield the same positive effects as a combination of all three.

Total-body training with your own body weight coupled with regular stretching is one of the best ways to improve your flexibility. 

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Herwig Natmessnig

As a former professional athlete (white-water slalom), Herwig lives and breathes health and fitness. Whether in competition or just for fun, he can never turn down a physical challenge. And with his enthusiasm, the sports scientist feels right at home at Runtastic.
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