Muscle Stretching Or Strengthening?

Muscle Stretching Or Strengthening?

Both muscle stretching and strengthening are techniques widely used in the rehabilitation of different ailments. However, how do you know when to stretch or strengthen your muscles?  Which one offers the greatest benefits? Do you want to stretch or do you better start doing weights? Here we will explain.

Muscle stretch

Stretching is a widely used technique that, in theory, helps reduce muscle pain and increase the flexibility of a joint. However, it has been shown that doing only stretching does not produce these effects either in the short term or in stretching regimens for up to 7 consecutive months.

It is believed that the increase in flexibility is due to the increased tolerance to the sensation of stretching, not because the muscle is lengthened. However, there are people who feel very good at stretching, either statically or dynamically. If you are one of those people, in general terms consider the following:

When to do muscle stretching?

  • If you have a feeling of tension or compression in any joint.
  • If you spend a lot of time in the same position (standing or in a chair, for example).

When to avoid stretching?

Stretching can be beneficial when maintaining the same body posture for a long time. However, there is no evidence to prove that they are an effective treatment to reduce the incidence of injuries.

Before exercising

Stretching statically before doing any physical activity decreases the strength that the muscle is able to do, which is known as “stretching-induced strength loss.” It is not permanent, but it can decrease your performance and predispose you to injuries. It is preferable that you do muscle stretching after exercising.

If it’s the only thing you do to prevent injuries

Stretching as a unique method has not proven effective in reducing the incidence of musculoskeletal injuries. However, combined with an individualized exercise program, it can be beneficial in certain cases.

If it’s the only thing you do to treat muscle contractures

As in the previous point, doing only stretching has not proved to be an effective treatment in people with muscular contractures or mobility problems. 

In people with or without neurological conditions, evidence suggests that muscle stretching does not significantly reduce pain or improve the quality of life in the short term. These results have also been seen in studies where stretching regimens have been made up to 7 consecutive months.

Muscle strengthening

Strengthening muscles is not synonymous with going to the gym. If you lift heavy weights, but it pulls you in the back if you bend over, something you are doing wrong.  Strengthening muscles is a process that should help your body to be able to move on a daily basis.

Remember that we have bodies that are designed to move, run, carry things, etc., but that live in a sedentary society (we no longer hunt for food, for example).

So, as the movement is not part of our day-to-day, we must add it consciously, whether, through the gym, a routine at home, small exercises throughout the day or whatever best suits our routine.

When to strengthen?

For the same reasons why you would stretch:

  • If you have a feeling of tension or compression in any joint.
  • If you spend a lot of time in the same position (standing or in a chair, for example).

But also for other reasons, such as:

  • If you have stretched to treat your symptoms and the symptoms do not improve, or improve and then get worse.
  • When you get tired when climbing stairs.
  • If you are recovering from an injury.
  • In case of pregnancy or postpartum period.
  • If you are older.

Regardless of the reason, consult with a personal trainer or health professional with knowledge in the area, especially if:

  • You are a beginner
  • You are a minor.
  • You are pregnant (or suspected).
  • You are an adult.

When to avoid training?

Strengthening exercises should be avoided after suffering from traumatic events or injuries. It is also better to suspend them if there are symptoms of physical overtraining.

After an acute traumatic event. You should not train the fractured affected limb until the bone is consolidated. After suffering a traffic accident, make sure you have a green light from the doctor and physiotherapist before exercising. 

Also, you should avoid it if you have symptoms of overtraining. These include:

  • Significant decrease in sports performance, at work or in your day today.
  • Excessive tiredness
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Insomnia or little sleep.
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle aches that do not diminish.
  • Abrupt changes in the menstrual cycle.

Muscle stretching or strengthening: which is better?

There are many circumstances by which to strengthen a muscle instead of stretching it. The decision will be made based on what you feel gives you more benefits at any given time.

If what worries you is where to start, studies like this show that, no matter what you choose, doing muscle stretching or strengthening will always beat a sedentary lifestyle.  So just start!

And remember that, rather than deciding what exercise to do, in which gym to enroll or what clothes to buy to train, it is more important:

  • Warm properly before strengthening or stretching.
  • Eat well.
  • Get enough rest.
  • Have good sleep hygiene.
  • Drink enough water.

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