Updated: Feb 11
There has been plenty of research now around whether or not we should be stretching. Most research is around whether stretching is good for injury prevention. 1(Nuzzo JL. 2020). The evidence certainly doesn't seem to support its use for injury prevention. 2(shrier I 1999). There is enough research to suggest pre-activity stretching may even add to injury risk. Warm-ups are now considered as best performed as an active form with little or no static movements, gradually increasing towards the activity you are about to do.
So what about stretching as a recovery session? Anatomically we simply can't stretch everything and we shouldn't really need to as we need muscular support for our joints. We need muscular tension to stay standing up so why would we want to lose it?
Tendon compression into their bony insertion points is a real risk here too, creating sensitivity like High Hamstring tendinopathy and Achilles tendinopathy. There are studies looking at elite athletes who have a reduced ROM as they become fitter towards their main race. This extra stiffness is a measure of increased fitness rather than poor flexibility. If we couple this with other metrics like jump height we can see that muscle tonicity is a good thing rather than something we need to try and remove.
Most people stretch as a habit rather than for any specific reason, it is largely a placebo effect and makes you feel better, giving a temporary perception of change.
Simply exercising will bring about greater strength and flexibility where needed and is a much better use of our time, particularly when strength and flexibility play a major role in reducing the incidence of injury in all sports. Being overly flexible in a sport like running seems counterintuitive where we actually need muscles to control movement particularly when fatigued. Running rarely takes us anywhere near full range of movement so is there really a need to try and extend it by stretching?
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1. Nuzzo JL. The Case for Retiring Flexibility as a Major Component of Physical Fitness.Sports Med. 2020;50(5):853-870. doi:10.1007/s40279-019-01248-w
2. Shrier I. Stretching before exercise does not reduce the risk of local muscle injury: a critical review of the clinical and basic science literature.Clin J Sport Med. 1999;9(4):221-227. doi:10.1097/00042752-199910000-00007