Stretching relieves stiff
muscles and can boost flexibility in the elderly and inactive but experts are
divided on how vital it is for general fitness and preventing injury.
For older adults who lose
flexibility through ageing, stretching can improve a range of motion and can
make it easier to do everyday tasks such as reaching for items on high shelves.
Flexibility activities can
also help reverse the chronically rounded shoulders and hands-on-keyboard
posture of office workers tied to their desks.
But Dr Mike Bracko, an
exercise physiologist with the American College of Sports Medicine, said
research indicates that static stretching, which involves holding a stretch for
30 to 60 seconds, does not reduce injury and actually makes the muscle weaker.
"I would say that
flexibility in and of itself is not that important a component of general
fitness," he said.
Read: Are you flexible?
Is flexibility essential?
Bracko, a hockey skating
coach based in Calgary, Alberta, notes that while activities such as gymnastics
and rock climbing require flexibility, others, such as boot camp or cycling, do
"A lot of people just
doing normal fitness activities don't need a lot of flexibility. It depends on
the person," he said, adding that muscles tend to get injured within the
normal range of motion.
"The classic example
is how sprinters strain hamstrings: the leg reaches forward, at some point
hamstrings have to contract fast. That's when the muscle fails," Bracko
explained. "(Stretching) can't deal with that."
But he said some studies
show that dynamic stretching, which unlike static stretching is not sustained
and which mimics the activity to be performed, decreases the risk of injury by
preparing the body for the movement to follow.
No more than two seconds
Stretch Zone Inc., which was
founded in 2004 and has studios in New York, Florida and the Caribbean,
specializes in practitioner-assisted stretches that are activity-specific and
"Nothing is held for
more than two seconds," said Miami-based founder Jorden Gold. "All
the studies show little correlation between static, long-held stretches and
"With a sedentary
lifestyle, the body picks up slack," he explained. "If, for example,
I stretch hip flexors (which move muscles when running and walking), I'll feel
lighter because the body is not fighting itself."
He said stretching can
lengthen a muscle to 1.6 times its resting length.
Read: The science of stretching
Stretching still evolving
But Jessica Matthews, a
California-based exercise physiologist formerly with the American Council on
Exercise, said the science on stretching is still evolving.
"We all agree on a
dynamic warm-up," she said, "(but) research on stretching for injury
prevention is still not conclusive enough to make that correlation. There isn't
clear-cut evidence to support one thing or another."
The American College of
Sports Medicine recommends adults engage in flexibility training a minimum of
twice a week.
flexibility training is commonly the most neglected component of fitness.
increase with flexibility training," she said. "How much is
The secret of stretching
Stretch yourself to the limit