The Debate: How Important Are Stretching Exercises?

Health Articles
May 19, 2020

While some gym-goers swear by the importance of a regular stretching routine, others say that you’re better off skipping the stretches altogether. Read on to find out more.

Tons of people wouldn’t dream of exercising without first giving their body a good old stretch. But increasingly, the health benefits of stretching have come under scrutiny. Explore some of the claims made on behalf of stretching and find out whether there’s any truth to the idea that stretching by itself doesn’t provide any serious health benefits.

What are the supposed health benefits of stretching exercises?

An effective stretching routine has a variety of reported health benefits. According to the Mayo Clinic, some of the most significant health benefits associated with regular stretching include:

  • Increased flexibility: Regular stretching may improve the range of motion in your joints, which boosts your physical performance and helps you to perform daily tasks, such as yard work or moving heavy objects, much more easily. In addition, it can help to counteract the reduced mobility which is associated with aging.
  • Better posture: Stretching exercises may stop your muscles from getting tight, which in turn can help you to maintain a good, healthy posture. Some of the benefits of good posture include correct bone and joint alignment, decreased ligament stress, and lower incidences of muscular pain.
  • Stress relief: Stretching is also said to be an effective means of reducing stress, with the lengthening of your muscles leading to reduced tension.
  • Improved circulation: A regular stretching routine may also help to boost the flow of blood to your muscles, which flushes out waste byproducts and shortens recovery time.
  • Boost coordination: Stretching may aid your sense of balance, which can make you less prone to incurring injuries from falls, as well as boosting your overall sense of mobility.

Are there any people who should avoid stretching?

Although stretching exercises are an important part of overall fitness, there are certain conditions that can make stretching a bad idea. If you have suffered from an acute muscle strain, stretching can place extra stress on the muscle, impeding your recovery process. The same is true for bone breaks and fractures. The bone needs time to heal, and stretching can place an unnecessary level of stress on the break. Stretching after a joint sprain is also something to avoid. As a basic rule of thumb, if you’re not fit enough to exercise, you probably shouldn’t be stretching either.

Are there any disadvantages to following a stretching routine?

The belief that stretching is a universal good isn’t held by everyone. In fact, some people argue that the benefits of stretching are negligible at best, and potentially harmful at worst. For instance, a 2014 study found that static stretching actually decreased endurance performance, while other studies have argued that stretching doesn’t help to prevent muscle soreness after exercise either.
One of the most common claims in favor of stretching exercises is that they help to prevent injury. However, this claim has come under scrutiny, with multiple studies suggesting that pre-exercise stretching doesn’t provide any benefits around injury prevention. In fact, a 2011 study argued that there is “no statistically significant difference in injury rates” between people who stretch before exercise and people who don’t.
Criticisms have also focused on the fact that the chief benefit of a stretching routine—improved flexibility—really doesn’t have any serious benefits for your health: it’s just flexibility for flexibility’s sake. So, if you’re not going to stretch, how should you get your body ready for exercise? Well, according to Pain Science, one of the best ways to warm up is simply to ease into your exercise slowly, rather than elongate your muscles through a stretching routine.

There you have it—when it comes to stretching, there doesn’t seem to be a consensus one way or the other. If stretching exercises are something that you rely on, why not discuss their efficacy with a doctor before your next gym session?