Good stretch or bad stretch?
Brad Walker explains how to determine if a stretch is suitable for you or not.
There is no such thing as a good or bad stretch! Just as there are no good or bad exercises, there are no good or bad stretches; only what is appropriate for the specific requirements of the individual. So, a stretch that is perfectly okay for me may not be okay for you or someone else.
Let me give you an example. You would not ask someone with a shoulder injury to do push-ups or freestyle swimming, but that does not mean that these are bad exercises. Now, consider the same scenario from a stretching point of view. You would not ask that same person to do shoulder stretches, would you? But that does not mean that all shoulder stretches are bad.
You see, the stretch itself is not good or bad, it is the way it is performed and who it is performed on, that makes it effective and safe, or ineffective and harmful. To place a particular stretch into a category of "Good" or "Bad" is foolish and dangerous. To label a stretch as "Good" gives people the impression that they can do that stretch whenever and however they want, and it will not cause them any problems.
The specific requirements of the individual are important!
Remember, stretches are neither good nor bad. Like a motor vehicle, it is what you do with it that makes it good or bad. However, when choosing a stretch, there are several precautions and "checks" you need to perform before giving that stretch the okay.
If the muscle group being stretched is not 100% healthy, avoid stretching this area altogether. Work on recovery and rehabilitation before moving onto specific stretching exercises. If the individual is healthy and the area to be stretched is free from injury, then apply the following to all stretches.
Warm-up before stretching
Stretch gently and slowly. (Avoid bouncing).
Let us take a look at one of the most controversial stretches ever performed and see how the above would be applied.
The stretch in figure 1 causes many a person to go into a complete melt-down. It has a reputation as a dangerous, bad stretch and should be avoided at all costs. Even just thinking about this stretch may cause injury.
So why is it that at every Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games and World Championships you see sprinters doing this stretch before their events? Let us apply the above checks to find out.
Firstly, consider the person performing the stretch. Are they healthy, fit and physically active? If not, this is not a stretch they should be doing. Are they elderly, overweight and unfit? Are they young and still growing? Do they lead a sedentary lifestyle? If so, they should avoid this stretch!
This first consideration alone would prohibit 75% of the population from doing this stretch. Secondly, review the area to be stretched. This stretch puts a large strain on the muscles of the hamstrings and lower back. So, if your hamstrings or lower back are not 100% healthy, do not do this stretch.
This second consideration would rule out another 20%, which means this stretch is only suitable for about 5% of the population. Or, the well trained, physically fit, professional athlete. Then apply the four precautions above and the well trained, physically fit, professional athlete can perform this stretch safely and effectively. Remember, the stretch itself is not good or bad. It is the way it is performed and who it is performed on, that makes it effective and safe, or ineffective and harmful.
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About the Author
Brad Walker is a prominent Australian sports trainer with more than 15 years of experience in the health and fitness industry. Brad is a Health Science graduate of the University of New England and has postgraduate accreditations in athletics, swimming and triathlon coaching. He also works with elite level and world champion athletes and lectures for Sports Medicine Australia on injury prevention.