The topic has been controversial for some time and there are many different statements and views on the usefulness of stretching. Nowadays, there is more clarity on this topic, which is why it is important for us to share this. In this way, mistakes in stretching can be avoided. Mistakes in stretching can lead to increased physical discomfort. In addition, it will more often happen that we give stretching exercises to take home with us. In order to better understand why we are doing this, this blog is intended to provide an insight.
Why do you need to stretch? To be more agile? To prevent sore muscles and injuries? Or just because it is part of it? Stretching is primarily about improving mobility. How so? Here's the problem:
Basically, we have muscles in our body that tend to increase tone (= muscle tension) and shortening, the so-called tonic muscles, and other so-called physical muscles, which tend to weaken. Whether muscles belong to the physical or to the tonic muscles depends on the composition of the different muscle fibers within a muscle.
If we have shortened muscles, there is either a shortening of the connective tissue that surrounds the muscles or a so-called sarcomere shortening. Sarcomeres are individual building blocks in the muscles that are connected in series and are broken down when not in use. However, this only happens if we do not move beyond our full range of motion for a long time (this is why performing with full range of motion is particularly important during exercises!).
Muscles that contain more type I fibers (slow-twitch fibers), tend to shorten. They are responsible for slow movements and can work for hours. Muscles that count are the hip flexors, the anterior and posterior thigh muscles, and the adductors.
So-called muscles, which contain more type II fibers (fast twitch fibers), tend to weaken. These muscles work very quickly, but only for a short amount of time, and can generate a lot of power. An example is the gluteal and upper back muscles. If we put too much strain on our muscles due to our load and movement patterns, e.g. by sitting for long periods in the office (8 hours a day, 5 days a week) or because we pass, flank and shoot with the right leg much more often in football, certain muscles can shorten or weaken. This is one of the reasons why many office people, for example, complain of neck tension and back pain. The hip flexor may then shorten because the legs are bent 22-24 hours a day (8 hours office work, 8 hours sleep in the embryo position, and 4 hours while driving, sitting on the sofa and at the dining table, etc.). This leads to increased tone (tension) in the lower back, because the back extensors now have to compensate for the shortened hip flexor, and can ultimately lead to the back pain mentioned above. How much does it actually help to stretch for 5 minutes twice a week if I reinforce the "mistake" almost 24 hours a day? We'll leave the question open ...
There are several ways to stretch. Two of which are widely known: static and dynamic stretching.
With dynamic stretching you rock repeatedly in (and out) of the stretch, with static stretching you hold the position for a certain period of time.
Before training or doing any other exercise, you shouldn't stretch, and certainly not static. With static stretching, you want to passively increase mobility and take the tension out of the muscles. Before training, however, we want to achieve exactly the opposite, we want to activate the muscles and prepare them for the work ahead. Static stretching before training increases the risk of injury! If you want to stretch statically, please do so after training and / or on days when you only want to stretch.
Should I stretch?
Recent studies have clearly shown that strength training in particular leads to improved mobility. Strength training might even have a better effect on agility compared to stretching, not to mention the added benefits of the strength training, such as increased strength, improved bone density, effective injury prophylaxis and pain reduction, to name some of the many advantages. However, do you currently have complaints and have hardly done any strength training or other sports before? Then, of course, targeted stretching exercises are recommended to slowly build up mobility again, to reduce the symptoms and then to do (more) sport again afterwards.
So that strength training really has a positive effect on mobility, all exercises should be performed with full range of motion!
Especially at the beginning this is usually not possible, then of course stretching exercises are all the more suitable for this.
Now, of course, there are two more crucial questions:
1. How often should I stretch?
2. What should I stretch?
«How often should I stretch?»
Regarding the first question: If the stretching exercises are of a prophylactic (preventive) character, a few carefully selected exercises three times a week are sufficient, ideally after a sporting session. If your muscles are already shortened, that is unfortunately not enough. Damage that has occurred over the years and that is "cared for" most of the day and night during most weeks of the year cannot be eradicated by briefly stretching three times a week.
The recommendation for shortened muscles is therefore: 3-5x 30 seconds / muscle, 3-5x / day, every day.
Fortunately, the effect, i.e. increased mobility, and ideally the corresponding pain relief and improvement in life and everyday life, can simply be accelerated a bit. More movement is required! In everyday life! Day in, day out, we perform movements that we can easily use to promote our mobility, the decisive factor is again that one goes to the full extent of movement. Some examples:
· Take 3 steps at once
· Stand upright and take great strides
· Fold the laundry on the floor or watch TV from a cross-legged position
Basically, it is a bit about not always going the path of least resistance, after all, in today's world we don't always have to be on the back burner with our body.
«What should I stretch?»
And now to the second question: Of course, it always makes sense to have yourself examined by someone professional, e.g. with us or our partner from Stronger Coaching, in order to get your own deficits clearly shown. A few body regions and muscle groups can be seen in a shortened form in many people, which is why we can still name a few generic muscle groups:
· Gluteal muscles
Iliopsoas (hip flexors)
Quadriceps and hamstrings (front and rear thigh muscles)
Adductors (inner thigh muscles)
· Calf muscles
If you don't know any exercises to stretch these muscles, a quick internet search will help or just talk to us directly. And remember: In order to improve mobility with stretching, two things are primarily needed: patience and discipline. Even in combination with strength training, it takes months to make great progress, but it is definitely worth it for the long run! But first and foremost, it is important to get started! Because once you have made a start, you will notice progress yourself.