The truth about stretching

Regular stretching feels good and helps keep your body flexible and mobile, yet there is debate over how often and when to do it.

There is plenty of hype about stretching – and in a nutshell, yes, it is an important practice.

Australian Physiotherapy Association sports and exercise physiotherapist Sonya Moore says regular stretching can help increase range of movement in joints and muscles if they have become stiff or feel tense.

“It is also a great starting point to pepper your day with body movement and body awareness,” says Sonya.

While flexibility seems to be the main advantage of stretching, there are plenty of other positive flow-on effects, says Sydney Stretch Therapy owner Cherie Seeto.

“Stretching is important if you want to improve performance if you’re an athlete,” she says.

“But it can benefit you in everyday life and most people are looking at either resuming exercise, or improving the way they do normal daily things, especially as you get older if you’re looking to maintain dignity, independence and functions.”

Stretching also does wonders for your mental wellbeing, says Cherie, “forcing you to slow down, feel sensations in your body and leaving you feeling great”.

How much stretching should you do?

“A small amount of stretching on most days is often helpful, for example aiming for five to 10 minutes each day on a few priority muscles and joints,” says Sonya.

“Some people prefer to take slightly longer less often, say 20 minutes, three times a week, as a way to more deeply and comprehensively address the whole body’s needs.”

But it is worth noting that while stretching is good for you, there is also no evidence to suggest that skipping it will have a negative impact, says Sonya.

Should you stretch before and after exercise?

Whether to stretch for a warm-up and cool down is a hot topic among exercisers but “there is no right or wrong time to stretch”, says Sonya.

“Often people like to stretch before or after exercise as a way to prepare for exercise, or to cool down afterwards.

“Both can be good times and often it feels more pleasant to stretch when your body is warm and the circulation is active, but this doesn’t need to be a deciding factor and you can do what works best for you.”

Researchers have looked at whether stretching before and after exercise can help avoid injury but the data is contradictory, with no definitive proof either way.

However, it is generally accepted that stretching is good for you and can benefit both sportspeople and non-athletes in a range of ways.

Top tips to for effective stretching

“You need to be conscious of what you are doing,” says Cherie.

“If you are doing it in front of the television or with headphones on you are checking out and are not aware of what is happening in the body.

“If you want to be able to age well you need to use stretching to help you deeply relax.

“This will restore your body.”

Written by Alex White.