Do you really need to stretch after lifting weights?
You’re probably aware that stretching offers some health benefits, but let’s face it: at the end of a tough workout, the last thing you feel like doing is contorting your body in various directions.
Are you putting yourself at risk by skipping the post-workout stretches? Could investing more time into improving your flexibility help you build more strength and muscle? Let’s find out.
Stretching and injury prevention
The traditional school of thought was that stretching could be used after a session of resistance training to alleviate muscle soreness, aid recovery and help keep your body free from injury.
However, in much the same way that we now know that static stretching before exercise is largely pointless and may actually increase the risk of injury, recent research indicates that post-workout stretching may not be effective for improving performance or preventing injury.
For example, an investigation published in the journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise reviewed the results of 361 studies and found that stretching was not significantly associated with injury reduction. Researchers concluded that “There is not sufficient evidence to endorse or discontinue routine stretching before or after exercise to prevent injury among competitive or recreational athletes.”
Why is stretching ineffective at preventing injury?
Well, regular stretching leads to greater flexibility, which expands your range of motion and can improve postural issues and your ability to perform certain movements. However, the vast majority of muscle injuries take place within a normal range of motion, meaning the added flexibility doesn’t do much in terms of preventing injury.
Stretching and DOMS
Another common belief is that stretching can alleviate delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which is the pain you can feel in your muscles several days after a new or particularly strenuous workout. While research suggests there is some truth to this belief, the effect is so small that it may not even be noticeable.
Indeed, a review from the University of Sydney found that test subjects reported that post-exercise stretching reduced soreness one day after exercise by just 1 point on a 100-point scale! The authors of the study noted that “The evidence derived from mainly laboratory-based studies of stretching indicate that muscle stretching does not reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness in young healthy adults.”
So are there any benefits to stretching at all?
Okay, so stretching doesn’t reduce your risk of injury and won’t make your dreaded DOMs go away - so what can it do?
Stretching may not be great as an injury preventative, but it still offers a lot of benefits that will affect many recreational trainees.
Range of movement
The first and perhaps most important benefit is that stretching can dramatically improve your flexibility. Just a few minutes of regular stretching can improve your range of motion and help the body move more fluidly. This is vital for anyone interested in sports or weightlifting as it can help you perform movements more efficiently and/or more safely. For example, tight ankles, knees and hips make a number of lifts (including deadlifts and squats) more difficult if not impossible. Improving flexibility in both your upper and lower body allow you to perform these exercises more efficiently, while gaining a better range of movement helps you recruit more muscles and execute the lift more effectively - both of which can help you better achieve your fitness goals.
Research also shows that static stretching can improve blood flow, which ensures your body is able to deliver oxygen and other nutrients around your body and to your extremities. Static stretching actually reduces blood flow during the stretch, but after the stretch is released blood flow increases beyond pre-stretch levels. Good blood flow is important for cell growth, heart health, organ function and overall health.
Last but by no means least, one of the key benefits of stretching is that it can help you relax. It is believed that static stretching helps stimulate the Parasympathetic Nervous System, which essentially deals with relaxation, as measured by heart rate variability.
Is stretching worth it?
To sum it up, stretching might not prevent an injury or reduce your DOMS. However, it can do wonders for your flexibility, improve blood flow and help you feel more relaxed. We highly recommend incorporating at least some stretching into your fitness program to keep your body limber, fluid and ready to move.