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The American Academy of Sports Medicine recommends stretching immediately after a workout to decrease muscle soreness and aid in recovery. Whether this stretching post workout fulfills these promises is a matter of controversy. Stressing about skipping your post-workout stretch may be unnecessary.
The вЂњNew York TimesвЂќ reported in November 2009 that stretching after a workout doesn't seem to offer many benefits in athletic performance. A study in the January 2009 issue of the вЂњJournal of Strength and Conditioning ResearchвЂќ further tested collegiate runners and found that those who had the least flexibility also had the best running economy, measured by oxygen usage during a run on a treadmill. Stretching doesn't even enhance flexibility that much because how close you can get your hands to your toes is really a matter of genetics, says Dr. Malachy McHugh, the director of research for the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. Your body shape, gender, age and level of physical activity will also influence your flexibility.
Recent evidence shows no correlation between stretching after exercise and post-workout muscle soreness. Cochrane Studies in July 2011 reported findings from a systemic review of 12 randomized studies looking at the effects of stretching after exercise. Reviewers concluded that stretching provided little or no effect on muscle soreness experienced the week after physical activity. Another review published in вЂњMedicine and Science in Sports and ExerciseвЂќ in March 2004 spanning studies performed from 1966 to 2002 found no direct correlation between stretching and the reduction of total injuries.
For most people, flexibility training is still an important part of your exercise plan. You just don't have to fit it in right after a workout, but you should aim for three 30-minute sessions weekly. The American Council on Exercise notes that stretching can improve your posture, increase relaxation, release muscle tension and possibly free up your range of motion. If you participate in an activity that requires demonstrations of flexibility, such as ice skating, gymnastics, diving or ballet, stretching after a workout may be essential.
Stretching should only be done on a warm body. If you choose to stretch as part of an independent workout session - take five to 10 minutes to warm up with low-intensity dynamic movements such as brisk walking while swinging the arms. Hold a stretch for every major muscle group for 15 to 30 seconds and repeat two to four times. Avoid bouncing in the stretch or pushing to the point of painful tension. Keep breathing normally as you stretch.