Stretch – Don’t Stretch

To stretch or not to stretch

Before we even go down this road, understand that I am not against stretching in general. I just believe it has its place and time. I also think that it is done too much by some.

Before you stretch, you need to figure out why you are tight. Stretching without this knowledge is not a good idea. There are more than a few reasons for tightness. The two most popular are injury and postural issues. These are the two issues I’m addressing.

Injury to the body causes alarms to go off from within. The body immediately goes into fight or flight and there is an increase need for blood supply to the injured area, so HR increases. Among other things, muscles surrounding the injured area go into spasm. This means that they vigorously contract, creating extreme tightness. This will cause a lot of discomfort with specific movements, depending on what is injured. Should you stretch?

The answer here would be no. The tightness created from the spasm is reaction to the injury. Your body does not want to be injured any further. The tightness serves as a protective mechanism. Stretching will give you temporary relief, however the body will usually tighten back up, often times it will be even tighter than before. If you continue to stretch, you will be overriding your body’s ability to protect itself. Eventually your body will relent and the result is usually injury.

Postural issues are different altogether, although the result is the same. Imagine yourself sitting at your desk for a few hours. Your shoulders are pitched forward/rounded. The chest muscles are now shortened, causing them to be tight. In most cases there is no injury from this positional issue. Stretching is one of the answers to this dilemma. Notice how I said, “one of the answers.” In order to fix the posture, you better be strengthening the upper back along with stretching.

Stretching has its place. There are many positives that come from stretching. That being said, there are just as many negatives that come from stretching as well. You must first understand why you are tight and then you can make a more educated decision about whether to stretch or not.

Bonus information: One thing that is worth mentioning, stretching in and of itself does not improve mobility. Stretching is simply the lengthening of the tissue. It does not move the body through any range of motion to improve joint mobility in most cases. If you have a mobility issue, all the stretching in the world will not fix your problem. However, many flexibility issues can be resolved through mobility techniques. How do you know? You need to be assessed by a professional, like me.

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Jeremy Crowe, MS, CSCS, TPIGFP3

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