Static stretching is the most common form of stretching that I see misused. It seems like it’s been ingrained into the minds of all active people that stretching is necessary to be athletic or active, but this is not the case.
There are three major reasons I hear the most regarding why people are static stretching, and what they think it’s doing:
- Preparing the body for exercise/activity
- Increasing range of motion
- Addresses “tight” and/or “stiff” muscles
Myth #1: “Stretching prepares the body for exercise/activity”
If an increased range of motion is required for the activity you are about to perform, it can be beneficial to “explore” this range of motion prior, but I would argue that preparing these muscles dynamically could prove more beneficial.
Some people even think that static stretching “warms up” muscles, but this is definitively not the case. Stretching can even impair muscle performance if performed immediately before exercise.
Myth #2: “Stretching increases range-of-motion”
This one is simple. 30 seconds of stretching is simply not enough time to create a noticeable lasting effect. I was a competitive gymnast back in the day, and I was sitting in splits for much longer than 30 seconds at a time. If you’re trying to increase the range of motion, it takes a lot more than that, but this begs the question, “do you even need to be trying to increase your range of motion”? It depends, but likely not.
Myth #3: “Stretching addresses ‘tight’ and/or ‘stiff’ muscles”
Likely not. Tightness or stiffness in muscles is typically a symptom of that muscle having worked really hard recently. Like if you did some heavy squats the day before, your leg muscles will feel stiff, but as you get stronger, this is less and less the case. Rather than stretching these muscles, strengthening them to better tolerate the stress we apply to them is much more beneficial.
In the end, stretching can cause very short-term varicose system changes in a muscle, making it seem like it was effective but the effects are transient. It is likely that your time would be better spent doing something more effective at achieving the desired goal.
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