Stretching is controversial in the world of fitness: some people swear by it, others avoid it entirely. What is the right answer? It comes down to personal choice. Read all about it in 4 Minute Fit: The Metabolism Accelerator for the Time-Crunched, Deskbound, and Stressed Out.
If “stretching” were a stock in a company traded on Wall Street, you might want to sell it.
There was a time, not long ago, when stretching was considered essential to exercise. You would go to a gym and you would see as many people stretching as you would see people actually exercising. The thinking was: (a) it warmed up the muscles, and (b) it increased flexibility, and this greater range of motion would prevent injury.
Since then, research has come out suggesting that maybe stretching before exercise isn’t as important as we thought it was. It doesn’t necessarily reduce muscle soreness or prevent injury. In fact, most informed trainers nowadays will say that it’s best to stretch after exercising, when the muscles are warm. This will prevent injury, help rest muscle fibers, and flush out waste built up in the muscles as a result of exercising. This will make you a little less sore the next day, which will increase your ability to perform. Stretching before exercise, when the muscles are not warmed up, can lead to injury and can actually weaken the muscle just before you start exercising. So you definitely don’t want to do that.
I think it’s a personal choice, something optional and not mandatory. Some people feel their bodies need it to get the blood flow going and move better. Others don’t feel that benefit. Some people use it for a period of relaxation before or after a workout, almost more mental stretching than muscle stretching. Other people would prefer to get in and out.
Me? I do the same thirteen-minute yoga stretching routine every morning, as soon as I wake up. That’s how important stretching is to me. I don’t feel right if I don’t stretch before I start my day. I have learned from those who are stretching experts that stress is stored in ligaments and tendons. That is one of the reasons yoga relieves stress—it stretches the ligaments and tendons, along with the muscle. Then there’s the entire mind-body connection that one can engage through stretching, moving, and breathing. So just in terms of general well-being, stretching is something I believe is so important that I make sure I do it before I do anything else each day.