There seems to be a lot of confusion regarding the value of muscle stretching to accelerate recovery after exercise. “Stretching clears out your lactic acid,” and other similar claims abound. Is any of this true?

Sort of.

First, it is important to understand the difference between stretching for recovery and stretching for remodeling.

Recovery

During exercise, muscles are called upon to work. During this work, fuel is used up, waste products are created and muscle fiber structure is disrupted by multiple micro tears. Imagine a banquet, for comparison, during which the food is eaten, garbage is accumulated (napkins, chicken bones, etc.), and the table settings disrupted. Before the next banquet, the food needs to be restocked, the garbage cleared, and the tables reset.

For muscles, this process of resetting for the next event is called recovery. The muscle is returned to full function without soreness.

This is not the process that leads to body change per se, but it is important for athletes who wish to compete at their highest level multiple times during a short period.

Athletes have tried many things to speed up recovery: cryotherapy, massage, compression, ice water immersion, stretching, hyperbaric oxygen, anti-inflammatories and electromyostimulation, just to name a few. These interventions are aimed at decreasing lactic acid, inflammatory markers and other molecules that build up following intense exercise.

Of these, only massage is consistently effective. Multiple studies have shown that stretching does not aid significantly in waste removal or serve in any capacity to accelerate muscle recovery.

Remodeling

Most of us aren’t training for professional competitions, though, but are exercising to be healthy, lose weight and improve our moods.

For that, we need to focus on our body’s remodeling response to exercise, which is not the same as recovery from exercise.

Plainly said, when we exercise consistently, our bodies adapt to that stressor by changing our muscle structure, metabolism, and physiology. It is that change, that remodeling, that leads to all the positive benefits of exercise. To stick with our banquet example, if we realized that 500 people are going to show up at every event, but we only have 10 tables set at present, we would change our capacity to be ready for the next event. We would increase the efficiency in the kitchen and set more tables. Likewise, our body remodels itself to adapt to increasing exercise.

Many studies also have been conducted to determine how to optimize the body’s remodeling response to exercise. After 35-plus years of study, six variables emerge as consistently aiding the body in its effort to reorganize in response to exercise: timing of nutritional intake (specifically protein), type of exercise, massage, sleep, low-dose creatine, and—you guessed it—stretching.

Perhaps the most well-known and accepted benefits of muscle stretching exercises are improved or maintained range of motion, or both; alignment of bones and joints; and strengthening of connective tissues—all elements that optimize performance.

Many studies have shown that flexibility training (dedicated attention over time to muscle stretching as part of an exercise program) directly improves muscle function, and ultrasound images have documented favorable alterations in muscle architecture following weeks of regular stretching, such as longer fibers. What’s more, a recent study has clearly shown that stretching over time improves blood flow to the muscles during subsequent exercise in animals.

Prior negative commentary around muscle stretching may be misleading to the casual observer. It is true that studies have shown static stretching routines (reach, hold for 30 seconds, release, next stretch) prior to a workout or competition lead to decreases in strength during that event, and that stretching before activity does not prevent injuries, as was long thought. But these are very specific circumstances that don’t apply to most people.

So Do I Stretch or Not?

If you are an elite athlete trying to decrease injury, increase strength or accelerate muscle recovery right before your next event—then no.

The ConversationIf you are most people, exercising to lose weight, be well and improve mood—then yes. It will help with muscle remodeling, connective tissue strengthening, range-of-motion improvement, joint alignment and potentially blood flow during subsequent exercise—all beneficial effects in the long run.

David Prologo is an associate professor at the department of radiology and imaging sciences at Emory University. This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Share

Video Popular

  • Celebrating Arbor Day With Books

    Celebrating Arbor Day With Books

    Trees were once considered sacred and awe-inspiring: Oaks were worshiped by the European Druids, redwoods were a part of American Indian ritual, and baobabs a part of African tribal life. Ancient Chin...

  • Sharks Eat Their Greens, Too—First Omnivorous Species Confirmed

    Sharks Eat Their Greens, Too—First Omnivorous Species Confirmed

    Not all sharks feed only on meat—at least one shark species also feeds on seagrass. Scientists have confirmed that one of the most common sharks in the world is an omnivore. The bonnethead shark, a re...

  • Microsoft Flags Dangers to EU of Plans to Limit Data Use

    Microsoft Flags Dangers to EU of Plans to Limit Data Use

    Microsoft said on Sept. 5, that EU lawmakers’ copyright reforms limiting the use of potentially valuable data to non-profit bodies could damage the European Union’s digital development. Co...

  • How Setting a Schedule Can Make You Less Productive

    How Setting a Schedule Can Make You Less Productive

    It can seem like there’s never enough time—not enough for sleep and not enough for play, not enough for cooking. and not enough for exercise. There’s a relatively new term to describe this feeling: ti...

  • RiNo, Denver: America’s Best Place for a Bar Crawl?

    RiNo, Denver: America’s Best Place for a Bar Crawl?

    “RiNo reminds me of Williamsburg in 2004—just pretentious enough to be good, not yet pretentious enough to be annoying.” Kevin Burke is joking, of course. As the general manager of American Bonded—one...

  • Respecting Teachers and Cherishing Virtue

    Respecting Teachers and Cherishing Virtue

    Respecting teachers and cherishing virtues are part of the traditional ethics practiced by the Chinese people. Teachers, who impart morality, knowledge, and values, teach people the proper ways to int...

  • Home Ownership in Canada Declines, Reversing Long Upward Trend

    Home Ownership in Canada Declines, Reversing Long Upward Trend

    Home ownership in Canada fell for the first time in over 45 years, according to a Point2Homes study released this week. It had reached a record high of 69 percent in 2011, but as of 2016, it fell to 6...

  • Aretha Franklin Dresses, Hats to Go up for Auction

    Aretha Franklin Dresses, Hats to Go up for Auction

    NEW YORK—More than 30 dresses and accessories worn on stage by Aretha Franklin are going up for auction. The Queen of Soul died at age 76 in Detroit on Aug. 16. Julien’s Auctions says the items ...

  • 87 Elephants Found Slaughtered in Botswana, Africa

    87 Elephants Found Slaughtered in Botswana, Africa

    An alarming number of elephant carcasses have been discovered in aerial surveys across Botswana in what has been described as a “poaching frenzy.” Botswana was once known as a sanctuary fo...

  • Yes, Marijuana Can Be Addictive

    Yes, Marijuana Can Be Addictive

    The business world is salivating at the potential $22.6 billion recreational marijuana market in Canada, with more new pot users expected after legalization on Oct. 17. But public-health officials wan...

  • Google Races to Parry the Rise of Facebook in India

    Google Races to Parry the Rise of Facebook in India

    Google retains only a slight lead over Facebook in the competition for digital ad dollars in the crucial India market, sources familiar with the figures say, even though the search giant has been in t...

  • Canada in Brief, Sept. 6-12

    Canada in Brief, Sept. 6-12

    Trudeau says he won’t use ‘tricks’ to ram through pipeline construction Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is pouring cold water on Alberta’s suggestion that the federal government use legislation or a cou...