For some time now, we have frequently heard that stretching adversely affects performance. On the one hand, the champions of stretching claim that it limits aches and the risk of injury by making the muscles more supple when warming up.On the other, the opponents of stretching maintain that it reduces muscular force and favours the occurrence of injuries, by making the muscles much more fragile.
One thing is sure: both sides are right.If stretching when cold is not performed properly, or if the muscles are overstretched, the occurrence of pain, or even injury, is probable. On the other hand, properly executed stretching that does not damage the muscles is beneficial. By reducing the stiffness of muscles, certain stretching exercises will allow you to extend your movements and to make progress in your sporting activity more easily. When properly executed, it makes for suppler muscles, improves posture and balance, prevents injury and raises awareness of the body.
Stretch before or after sport?
Here again, opinions are divided.
While certain specialists are opposed to stretching during warm-ups, claiming that it can adversely affect performance, this is mainly true of athletes of a medal-winning calibre only. It seems pointless to ban pre-sport stretching for athletes who only exercise occasionally.
However, make sure you warm up properly in readiness for your efforts, before doing any pre-sport stretching exercises. The muscles must be warmed up before being stretched, i.e., their temperature must be increased to make them more flexible.
“Active-dynamic” stretching exercises that prepare the muscles, tendons and joints for effort are recommended, because they do not reduce peak force during exercise. “Active-dynamic” refers to an isometric (static) contraction lasting a few seconds, followed by a “dynamic phase”, such as raising the knee when stretching the quadriceps or thighs.
Stretching after exercising helps to relax the solicited muscles. So-called “passive” stretching after an effort provides genuine muscular relaxation. It also makes for more effective recovery.
Remember: never stretch the muscle until you feel pain and always adapt your stretching exercises to your sporting activity.
How to Stretch
No matter whether you are stretching before or after exercises, here are a few tips to stretch properly:
The stretching session should last around 10 minutes, stretching each muscle group twice.-Increase the amplitude of each stretching movement gradually, and without forcing.
Only stretch when breathing out.-Make the movements in a calm manner, preferably without talking, and as slowly as possible.
If you lie on the ground to stretch, close your eyes. This favours muscular relaxation, feel and adjustment. Stretching is optimal when combined with relaxation.
Do not make any stretching movements in balanced or unbalanced positions, as we often observe. For example, when you are standing, hold yourself when you stretch your thigh. This will prevent you from losing balance and contracting the muscle, instead of stretching it.
After each stretching movement, relax your limbs for 10 seconds.
Once the body is warm and stretched, jump up and down on the spot.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to stretching after sport: one shouts from the rooftops that it is essential after physical effort, while the other claims that it's a complete waste of time and that the movements are absolutely useless. Who should we believe? Let's try to understand by comparing the two cases.