For years, frequent stretching, or flexibility training, was thought to provide the body with benefits such as injury prevention, performance enhancement, stress reduction and posture improvement. However, recent research suggests flexibility training, which is the most neglected component of fitness, may actually do more harm than good when regularly practiced. While various studies concur with this finding, others contradict it, leaving some researchers, coaches, players and recreational athletes standing by the “old school” rule-of-thumb that frequent stretching does the body good.
Flexibility training relaxes muscles and yields a fuller range of motion, which is a joint’s ability to move more freely during activity. Although these components were previously thought to prevent athletic injuries, they may play a key role in injury occurrence. Some researchers have found that loose muscles are not stable and cannot handle the harsh impact that accompanies jumping or running activities. Others have concluded that flexibility training develops more pliable joints that can stretch beyond their range of motion, which contributes to tendonous microtrauma sustained during exercise or physical activity.
Previously, elite and recreational athletes were advised to warm up with stretching exercises prior to training or competition to boost athletic performance. However, a 2008 study conducted at the University of Las Vegas, Nevada showed that pre-performance stretching impedes force generation by reducing musculotendinous stiffness, which can diminish athletic performance. In September 2004, the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine published a study that found that regular stretching enhanced force, speed and jump height, leading to improved athletic performances.
Long-term, unmanaged stress can contribute to major health problems, such as heart disease or cancer. A single session of yoga or any exercise temporarily produces feelings of well-being and a happier mood due to the hormone release that occurs during exercise. Yoga, which is a mind-body practice with many forms, styles and intensities, is used to improve flexibility and reduce stress. Hatha yoga, which is the most commonly practiced form, uses a slower pace of movement and easier poses in addition to breath control, good posture and meditation.
Poor posture develops by slouching when completing everyday activities like watching television or driving and has numerous downsides, including lowered self-esteem and decreased confidence. Flexibility training can correct poor posture by loosening the major back muscles, such as the trapezius or latissimus dorsi. Good posture equates to improved spinal health, better sleep, little to no back pain, increased energy and an improved state of emotional well-being.
- The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: Acute Effects of Static and Ballistic Stretching on Measures of Strength and Power
- MayoClinic.com: Stretching: Focus on Flexibility
- MayoClinic.com: Yoga: Fight Stress and Find Serenity
- Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine: Does Stretching Improve Performance? A Systematic and Clinical Review of the Literature
- U.S. News & World Report: No Bending or Twisting
- WorkLife: Stress Reduction Tips
- Biofeedback: Increase or Decrease Depression: How Body Postures Influence Your Energy Level
Based in Birmingham, Ala., MekaSeay Jones began writing in 2005. Her work has appeared in "Shoals Woman Magazine" and various newspapers. Jones is pursuing a Ph.D. in exercise science from the University of Alabama. She holds M.A.Ed. and B.S. degrees in health and physical education.