Stretching for injury prevention:

Stretching is when you manipulate the movement of a muscle with the intention of lengthening it. As a result, you’ll notice several benefits, including increased flexibility. But can stretching prevent injury?

Let’s take a look at what the studies say about stretching, its benefits, and whether stretching is a useful tool for injury prevention.

Types of Stretching

There are five types of common stretches. We’ll rank them from the easiest to complete to more advanced forms.

Passive Stretching: As the name implies, passive stretching is setting up the body into a position where a muscle group can be stretched with no force or additional pressure from you. Bending over to touch your toes is a great example.

Static Stretching: Often, static stretching and passive stretching are mistakenly used interchangeably. While both forms require staying in a stretching pose for a set amount of time, it is during static stretching that you actively apply additional pressure or force to lengthen the stretch. An example of this would be a chest wall stretch.

An abdominal mat will be your best friend during ground-based static stretches.

Dynamic Stretching: Also referred to as active stretching, this form of stretching focuses on using light movements similar to what you will be performing during your workout. For example, if it’s leg day and you’ll be squatting, you can perform bodyweight half squats as a dynamic stretch.

PNF Stretching: An advanced type of stretch, the technique behind PNF stretching is to relax, contract, and then go into a deeper stretch.

Ballistic Stretching: A controversial form of stretching, ballistic stretching involves “bouncing” on the connective tissue. The idea behind ballistic stretching is to move past the point of the stretch reflex – when your body forces the muscle back into place – and get a deeper stretch. It’s not recommended for beginners or anyone with previous joint issues.

Benefits of Stretching

Before we answer the question of whether stretching prevents injury, let’s take a look at those benefits of stretching that have been proven.

Increased Flexibility: The primary reason for stretching is to increase flexibility. Numerous studies have confirmed that consistent stretching can significantly improve your flexibility. [1]

Improved ROM: Tight muscles and a history of injuries or surgeries can limit your range of motion. Adopting a routine of both static and dynamic stretching can effectively improve your range of motion, allowing for better overall movement and performance. [2]

Reduces Soreness: Stretching can’t eliminate DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness) altogether, but it might make a noticeable difference. Studies suggest that post-workout stretching can help to reduce soreness. [3]

Does Stretching Prevent Injury?

For something that provides a great amount of benefit, stretching is fiercely debated over whether it can help to prevent injury.

The conclusions of numerous studies are mixed. And anecdotal reports can vary widely. The case against pre-workout stretching has to do with the fact that it might reduce your performance levels. [4]

We err on the side of caution. What’s a mediocre reduction in workout performance – not competition performance – for the possibility that you’ll literally save your own ass?

We’re not saying that you need to perform an entire yoga session before a weightlifting workout. By timing certain types of stretching, you’ll be able to minimize the reduction in performance and maximize the benefits of stretching.

When Should You Stretch?

Matching the type of stretching to the proper time – pre- vs. post-workout – is the key to maximizing the benefits of stretching.

Pre-Workout: Dynamic Stretching

Dynamic stretching should be used before your workout. Start with a basic warm-up such as walking on the treadmill or using the stepper machine.

After five to ten minutes, start your dynamic stretching session, which is going to be a light version of the exercises you’ll perform in your workout. A few examples:

  • If you’re performing barbell back squats, use bodyweight half squats as your dynamic stretch.
  • Performing the barbell bench press? Use wall push-ups.
  • Performing barbell rows? Use a light lat pulldown.
  • Performing deadlifts? Use bodyweight bridges.

Post-Workout: Static Stretching

Static stretching is ideal after your workout is finished. This is when you can hold stretches for upwards of one minute and not have to worry about reducing your performance.

We recommend preceding your static stretching with a cool down to ensure length-tension relationships are reset and blood isn’t pooling in the muscles.

Do You Use Stretching to Prevent Injury?

Do you feel like stretching has helped you avoid getting hurt during workouts? Are you someone who skips stretching? Let us know what you think on our Facebook.

  

References

  1. de Weijer VC, Gorniak GC, Shamus E. The effect of static stretch and warm-up exercise on hamstring length over the course of 24 hours. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2003;33(12):727-733. doi:10.2519/jospt.2003.33.12.727
  2. Harvey L, Herbert R, Crosbie J. Does stretching induce lasting increases in joint ROM: a systematic review. 2002. In: Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects (DARE): Quality-assessed Reviews [Internet]. York (UK): Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (UK); 1995-.
  3. Andersen JC. Stretching before and after exercise: effect on muscle soreness and injury risk. J Athl Train. 2005;40(3):218-220.
  4. Witvrouw E, Mahieu N, Danneels L, McNair P. Stretching and injury prevention: an obscure relationship. Sports Med. 2004;34(7):443-449. doi:10.2165/00007256-200434070-00003.