It is commonly thought that participating in a consistent stretching program leads to improved performance with all athletic activities. The benefits of stretching have been described to be improved flexibility, improved muscle performance, reduction in pain, and reduction of injury. Countless studies have been performed to investigate the association between flexibility and the potential benefits leading to improved performance. When sifting through the information available on stretching, one can find evidence to support any one of the previously mentioned benefits of stretching, but when taking into account the body of information, there is no conclusive evidence that validates a definitive association.
No consistent evidence does not mean that present positive correlations between flexibility training and decreased musculoskeletal problems may be disregarded. This means that flexibility training can (and in my opinion should) be a part of any training program, but one may need to consider other factors for a complete program. Take for example, the hamstrings. The hamstrings may be the most commonly stretched muscle in the body. If flexibility alone was a sufficient enough to decrease injury, then the hamstrings would most likely not be known as one of the most commonly injured muscles in the body. Factors such as posture and strength may need to also be assessed when developing a comprehensive training program. A greater positive relationship is often shown when performance is assessed after a program involving flexibility in combination with strengthening is performed.
The question should not be: Should I stretch? When developing a training program, the question should be: How much emphasis should I place on a stretch? Flexibility should be addressed to help an individual have the ability to achieve the appropriate posture that will allow them to be stable, strong, and fluid in their activity. The emphasis placed on stretching should be determined based on the characteristics of the individual. When implemented correctly, stretching can be a useful tool in the improvement of performance.
- Hedrick A. Flexibility and the conditioning program. National Strength and Conditioning Association Journal. 1993;15(4):62-66
- Bandy WD, Nelson RT. An update on flexibility. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 2005;27(1)10-16.
- Knudson DV, Magnusson P, McHugh M. Current issues in flexibility fitness. President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports Research Digest.2000;series3 n10.
- Santana JC. Flexibility: more is not necessarily better. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 2004;26(1):14-15.