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The Stretching Myth

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Debunking the stretching myth and giving you real reasons why muscle stretching helps your body, and how to do it properly

Stretching before activity is great for you, but not for the reasons you might think.

When you stretch a muscle, you increase the length of the muscle to the point where you feel that balance between pain and a pleasure. Generally, people think that stretching helps with flexibility. However, unless you held a stretch for an extremely long time (5 mins), and did this on a regular basis, (twice daily, 7 x /week), it’s unlikely you will change a muscle’s resting length.

To help understand how flexibility is improved, think of the saying, “Use it, or lose it.” During exercise you are required to move your limbs into positions that require full lengthening of the muscles. The more regularly you exercise and the more varied the activities are, the more your muscles are required to adapt both in strength and flexibility.

In other words, if you use your muscles a lot, your body will continue to invest resources into these structures. Think of these resources at a cellular level, more muscle fibres making the muscles grow longer and stronger. Ask yourself, is there any point in investing resources into muscles which sit at desks all day?

Of course, there is always a trade-off between flexibility and strength. If you just did weights workouts all the time, you might get so bulky that the extra muscle mass actually obstructs some ranges of motion. For example, your biceps might grow so big that you could not touch your right shoulder with your right hand.

Whilst this is an unlikely scenario for most people, the point is to vary your exercise regime. People who run four times per week would increase the benefits of their exercise exponentially simply by substituting the fourth run for either a sprint session or a weights workout. The change in routine enables the muscles to become more versatile in their functioning. This partly explains why people who consider themselves active individuals are still prone to muscle injuries.

The body builder packs his week with squats, curls and presses – maximising strength. By comparison, the ballerina mixes her routine with activities demanding a balance between core strength, cardiovascular fitness and functional strength – maximising athletic ability. What would you prefer?

Stretching your muscles is recommended before exercise as it primes the muscles with blood. Blood delivers the food that muscles use to function. Without it, the muscles are likely to tear during activity. However, before you start stretching rather spend five minutes jogging very slowly. This is a better way of priming your body with blood as it gets the heart pumping quicker than what stretching does. bAlso, because you are not required to lengthen your muscles all that much when jogging, there is less chance you will irritate your muscles doing this, than there is during stretching.


The goals of stretching before activity should be to prepare your body for what is about to come. Dynamic stretching is a term used to describe gentle-to-moderate swinging and bouncing motions for warming up muscles. For example, leg swings, walking lunges or shoulder circles. These stretches aim to imitate the activities you are about to perform at higher intensity.

Once you have finished exercising, your body is very warm and you should cool it down gradually. Ever put a hot glass cup straight into the freezer? Sometimes it will crack when you do this. If you have just finished a sprinting session or an intense sporting match, cool down with a long walk and some static stretching. Static stretching is what most people are familiar with ” stretch and hold for 10-30 seconds. In this way, your muscles are less likely to injure next time you use them.

Next time you exercise, spare a thought for your muscles. If you prepare them properly before activity, they will function more efficiently and you can prevent injury. Ask your health professional for more tips on how to maximise your performance through pre and post stretching.

*DISCLAIMER: This discussion does not provide medical advice. The
information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and
other material contained in this discussion are for informational
purposes only. The purpose of this discussion is to promote broad
consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not
intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis
or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other
qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding
a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health
care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay
in seeking it because of something you have read in this blog.

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