It is an endless debate among athletes: stretching is often a hot topic. Is it effective? Should you stretch? Domyos sheds light on the subject.
Should you stretch?
For some time now, we've been hearing that stretching diminishes athletic performance. On the one hand, there are those who are for stretching and who maintain that as part of a warm-up they reduce soreness and the risk of injury by relaxing the muscles. On the other hand, anti-stretching supporters maintain that stretching could reduce muscle strength and favour the onset of injuries (by making the muscles much more fragile).
One thing is for sure: in this debate, both parties are right. If the stretches are performed cold and poorly, or if the muscles are overextended, the onset of pain, or even injury, is likely. On the other hand, if stretching is done properly, without "damaging" the cold muscle, they are beneficial. By reducing the stiffness of the muscles, some stretching exercises allow to extend movements and progress more easily in their discipline. If performed properly, they promote muscle flexibility, improve posture and balance, prevent injury and provide improved body awareness.
Stretching before or after training?
Once again, opinions differ. If some experts questioning stretching during warm-ups and argue that these may interfere with the athlete's performance, this mainly concerns medal-seeking athletes. Therefore, it seems unwise to banish stretching before a workout for those who train occasionally.
However, when you stretch before a training session, warm up first to get ready for the exertion. Muscles should be stretched after having been warmed up, i.e. after increasing their temperature to make them more flexible. We recommend "active-dynamic" stretching which prepares the muscles, tendons and joints for exertion and avoid reducing "the peak" during exertion. "Active-dynamic" means an isometric contraction (static) for a few seconds, followed by a "dynamic" phase (e.g. knee raised if stretching quadriceps or thigh).
After a workout, stretching to relax muscles is a good idea. Indeed, so-called "passive", stretching after exertion provides real muscle relaxation. They relax and this helps with recovery.
Please note: you should never stretch to the point of feeling pain, and of course, you should tailor the stretching to the kind of activity you are about to perform.
How to stretch?
Whatever the stretching session (before or after exertion), bear in mind the instructions of Sylvain Baert, our sport's coach.
Your stretching session should last about ten minutes, at the rate of 2 times for each muscle group.
Gradually increase the amplitude of each stretch, without straining.
Stretch only on the out breath.
Quietly perform the movements, ideally you shouldn't speak and you should be as slow as possible.
Close your eyes if you lie down on the ground to stretch. It helps muscle relaxation, the experience and the adjustment (for optimal stretching, perform with relaxation).
Do not perform the stretches in a balancing position, as is often seen: if, for example, you are standing, make sure to hold on to something to steady yourself and avoid losing your balance and contracting a muscle instead of stretching it.
At the end of each stretch, take 10 seconds to release your limbs.
Once the body is warmed up and stretched, skip on the spot.