08 May Stretching Should NOT be a Major Component of Physical Fitness
This recent study looks at static stretching, specifically the sit-and-reach test. The argument has always been that hamstring flexibility is important to activities of daily living and sports performance, and the American College of Sports Medicine currently recommends 2-4 repetitions of multiple stretches a day.
This author feels there should be decreased emphasis on stretching as a necessary component of exercise regimes, as static stretching does not clearly improve health and function, and flexibility can be maintained or improved more efficiently through other modes of exercise.
Flexibility levels are usually greater in older adults who are most independent in activities of daily living, but so is muscle strength. Higher scores in the sit-and-reach test do not predict who will have lower back pain, hamstring injuries, or lower limb pain. Stretching to prevent injuries has not been backed up in the evidence.
The author argues that reducing emphasis on stretching will make exercise training more efficient, and poor flexibility in the general population may be due to reduced physical activity. If an exercise session can be shorter, people may be more consistent with doing it. Time previously dedicated to stretching could be better used with additional aerobic or resistance exercise. Leisure activities or aerobic and resistance exercise should be able to maintain or improve muscle flexibility in most people.
This author makes a point of saying that muscle flexibility is irrelevant for overall health and function, and that it should not be considered a major component of physical fitness for most people. He argues that stretching generally does not improve function in healthy individuals when compared to other forms of activities or exercise.
Finally, the author notes that dynamic stretches are different than static stretches—they use body weight and recruit multiple muscles and a neural component to perform, likely making them more functional than static stretching.
If the evidence we have to date is showing that static stretches do not advance our fitness or health, and we get more gains through aerobic-type workouts and resistance training, maybe our time is better spent learning dynamic stretches for blood flow and getting our muscles to end-range pre-exercise.
What do you think?
Nuzzo, James. The Case for Retiring Flexibility as a Major Component of Physical Fitness. Sports Medicine (2020). 50: 853-870.