How many times have you heard the advice "Don't forget to stretch?" But when it comes to stretching, there are so many mixed messages from when you're supposed to do it (before exercise? after? before and after?), to how long to hold a stretch, to the best ways to do it, to why to do it in the first place. Here's a primer to help you get to the bottom of all those claims and unanswered questions.
A systematic review of studies that addressed the impact of stretching on sports injury risk published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise notes that the jury is still out on whether or not stretching can prevent injury among competitive or recreational athletes. However, flexibility exercises when done after a workout or at least after a brief cardio warm-up do help to maintain circulation around the joints, keeping muscles healthy where they're most apt to get injured.
Stretching allows the body to move more efficiently and perform at its peak. During the course of a workout, muscles begin to shorten as they fatigue. This impedes your ability to generate speed and power and leads to a less efficient, shorter, more shuffling stride. Stretching keeps muscles elongated, reducing this tendency.
It can make you stronger. Some research shows that stretching the muscle group you just worked between sets can increase strength gains by 19 percent.
It's an incredibly soothing way to connect your mind and body, and it simply feels great!