To Stretch or Not to Stretch
This article is about static stretching as part of a warm-up routine with children. Static stretches are the type where you hold a particular pose for a period of time.
We are talking about class stretching prior to a P.E. session. We are not talking about flexibility stretching as part of a gymnastics training warm-up.
Recommendations to stretch or not stretch change from year to year and from expert to expert. Stretching has been promoted for years as an essential part of a fitness program as a way to decrease the risk of injury, prevent soreness and improve performance. While researchers continue to look at the benefits and pitfalls of stretching, there is still limited (and conflicting) evidence to sort out these opinions.
As a kid I was always told to stretch before doing any physical exercise. I remember stretching in P.E. classes in both primary and secondary school. I never questioned it, you had to stretch otherwise you could hurt yourself.
With more and more content been crammed into the school day, it seems like our P.E. sessions keep getting shorter and shorter. So, how much extra time could you cover if you could get back the 5 minutes it takes you to stretch every session? Assuming that there are 40 weeks in the school year, and you have each class once a week, that’s 200 minutes that you could get back, or over 3 hours of P.E. time spent stretching throughout the year.
Studies over the last few years have made it pretty clear that static stretching before a workout is generally not important. There is no discern-able change to the amount or severity of injuries between people who stretch, and those who don’t. There is little if any gain from static stretching (however dynamic stretching can be beneficial if done correctly).
The only benefit to stretching as part of a warm-up is a slight possibility of increased flexibility; but if we are trying to increase flexibility, then we should be doing specific stretches aimed at increasing flexibility.
Sometimes I still incorporate a static stretch as part of warm-up if:-
- The place I am teaching at demands it.
- I have a particularly unsettled class that needs to be calmed down and focused (silent, copy me stretching is magnificent for this purpose).
- I am working in a setting with a lot of distractions – a silent stretch can help the children ‘switch on’ to the task ahead.
- I am running a yoga class!
The Problem - Why do we still do it?
So many people have been told for so long that we need to stretch. This puts us in a very difficult position when it comes to trying to change the stretching myth. How do we deal with these scenarios:-
- A kid hurts themselves – Parent: "did you stretch?", Child: "teacher said we didn’t have to"
- Kid goes home – "teach says we don’t need to stretch in P.E. anymore"
- Principal – "make sure you stretch before every session"
- Do children stretch before they go out to play?
- Does a 2 year old stretch before they go running to Mummy / Daddy?
- Does a policeman stop and stretch before he chases an offender?
Is it better to:-
- Know that it is of no benefit, but to waste the time and do it anyway to cover your backside;
- or try to educate the new generation and finally rid ourselves of this static stretching myth?
What do you do in your sessions? Do you still stretch, and if so why?
Should You Stretch Before or After Exercise - Elizabeth Quinn
ABC Health & Wellbeing – Prof. Robert Herbert
- Herbert RD, de Noronha M. Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2007, Issue 4.
- Andersen, J. C. Stretching Before and After Exercise: Effect on Muscle Soreness and Injury Risk. Journal of Athletic Training 40(2005): 218-220
- Witvrouw, Erik, Nele Mahieu, Lieven Danneels, and Peter McNair. Stretching and Injury Prevention An Obscure Relationship. Sports Medicine 34.7(2004): 443-449
- Ian Shrier MD, PhD and Kav Gossal MD. The Myths and Truths of Stretching: Individualized Recommendations for Healthy Muscles, The Physician and Sportsmedicine, VOL 28, #8, August 2000.
- Trehearn TL, Buresh RJ.. Sit-and-reach flexibility and running economy of men and women collegiate distance runners. J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Jan;23(1):158-62.