Should You Have A Stretching Routine?

by | Feb 29, 2024 | Blog

Should You Have A Stretching Routine?

Stretching has been around for many years, and its popularity has ebbed and flowed depending on the era.

In recent years, stretching has become viewed as ‘useless’, and some fitspos have gone so far to say that it can ‘kill your gains’.

On the other hand, there are camps of coaches & fitness people swearing by stretching, touting it as THE tool to prevent injuries.

And there are certainly people who fall in the middle with the idea that stretching is fine but only if it’s the ‘right kind’ of “functional/dynamic” stretching (or whatever fancy word they want to call it).

To add to it all, if you ever look up rehab on the internet, you’ll be presented with all the stretches you need to do for your pain or injury, indicating that rehab consists mostly of stretching.

So which is it? Stretch? Don’t stretch? Only perform dynamic, functional, active, isolated stretching??

It’s easy to see how confusing it can be. In this blog, you’re going to learn what stretching is, what it can help with, and when to implement it.

What is stretching?

The definition of stretching is making something longer or wider without tearing or breaking.

In fitness, stretching is a form of exercise, or a tool, that can be used to improve flexibility:.

flexibility noun [U] (ABLE TO CHANGE): the ability to change or be changed easily; the ability to bend easily without breaking

The idea of stretching is training your muscles (and other connective tissues) to lengthen more so you can move further into a range of motion.

Muscles can shorten or lengthen depending on the movement happening at the joint they cross. Here is a visual example of the difference between shortening and lengthening of the biceps muscle based on the movement happening at the elbow joint depicted by the arrows.

As the biceps shortens, your elbow flexes, bringing your forearm towards your upper arm. The inverse is also true: as your elbow extends or straightens, your biceps lengthens and your forearm moves down away from your upper arm.

As the muscle reaches its end lengthened position, you’ll often experience a stretching sensation.

This range of motion (how far you’re able to move) changes throughout our lives depending on our daily movement and how much time we spend in these positions. As we get older and move less or as we move less for prolonged periods of time for other reasons (ie recovering from an injury), we don’t expose our muscles to lengthened positions, and we lose flexibility.

Stretching helps us gain access to those ranges of motion again.

What are the benefits of stretching?

All forms of stretching can have benefits for your body, but strategic, prolonged stretching is a training tool to help you have less restricted movement and improve the ranges of motion you have access to both in your daily life and during other training activities.

Benefits of stretching can include:

  • Improved flexibility and range of motion
  • Reduced injuries
  • Improved blood circulation and decreased muscle soreness
  • Increased parasympathetic nervous system activity

So should you be stretching?

If you haven’t picked up by now, the answer to whether or not you should stretch depends on what you are wanting to achieve with stretching. You likely fall in one of three categories:

1.) Maybe you have heard that everyone should have a “stretching routine” to help with function as you get older.

While this can be helpful for many people, I tend to recommend implementing a daily CARs routine instead, or at least initially to lay the groundwork for keeping your joints healthy, getting better body awareness, and maintaining your range of motion. You can read more about that here.

2.) Or maybe you are seeking out stretching due to pain, tightness, discomfort, or stiffness in one or multiple areas.

While basic rehab often focuses ONLY on stretching for pain or tightness, better rehab should have a more comprehensive approach. An assessment should be done to determine what ranges of motion are lacking, and whether or not it’s due to a lack of flexibility or strength, as well as what other factors might be contributing to these sensations.

Discomfort, tightness, and pain are sensations. Understanding the cause(s) of those sensations is important, so a comprehensive plan can be created because in some cases, stretching may make things worse.This is why I usually recommend getting assessed by a professional and often starting with a daily CARs routine instead first.

3.) Or, last but not least, you may be looking into stretching because you have flexibility goals.

Those goals may be anything from wanting to achieve splits to having more ease with daily movements like reaching overhead or sitting on the floor more comfortably. Regardless, flexibility goals usually entail stretching of some sort. If that’s the case, a regular stretching routine will definitely be needed to reach your goals.

As you can see, stretching isn’t always the answer. Understanding what you are wanting to achieve determines what tools are needed, and sometimes that includes stretching. Sometimes it does not.

If you are looking to begin implementing more stretching, stay tuned for a future blog on stretching guidelines.

To learn more about setting a mobility-focused goal, check out my free masterclass called Kickstart Your Mobility Training!

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A photo of Dr. Jen Hosler standing with a barbell instructing the deadlift.

Hi, I'm Dr. Jen Hosler.

I’m a bookworm, science nerd, and coach of all things movement (physical therapist and strength & mobility coach). You can catch me sleeping in & having a slow morning, doing CARs & lifting heavy things, or sipping a glass of wine on my time off.

Through a blend of strength & mobility training, I’ll help you master your movement & build a more resilient body that won’t hold you back from all the activities you love doing.

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