In our busy day to day, we are often faced with making decisions on how to use our time most wisely. Unfortunately, with little time, especially for physical fitness, we tend to skip the part where we take care of our muscles and focus on the part where we work the living &*%$# out of our muscles. In my newsletter from February of 2016, I wrote about how important stretching is for a better level of physical fitness and how to best make time to incorporate stretching into your workout. BUT, is stretching the best way to take care of our muscles? Is it the best use of our time? My last two newsletters have focused on fascia and foam rolling. Recent literature actually supports that foam rolling before and after a workout may be as good or better than stretching. The two techniques both address the health of your musculature but which one is more bang for your buck????
Here Is What We Know About Stretching
Stretching works to counteract tightness and tension built up in the muscles that have been working.
The goal of stretching is to return the muscle to it's original length and relaxed state.
Stretching is achieved through elongating the muscle by moving the joint(s) that it crosses.
There are many effective methods of stretching such as static stretching, dynamic stretching and PNF techniques.
boosts blood flow through your muscles
increases oxygen levels in your muscles
helps deliver nutrients to your muscles
facilitates the removal of metabolic waste such as carbon dioxide, ammonia and uric acid
Here Is What We Know About Foam Rolling
Foam rolling is a form of self-myofascial release.
Foam rolling requires engagement of the core muscles to roll properly.
The pressure of the foam roller reduces adhesions in the muscle.
The pressure of the foam roller reduces tension in the muscle.
promotes muscle recovery
improves movement efficiency
inhibits overactive muscles
Those health and fitness professionals who believe that stretching, static or dynamic, is better for your body pre and post workout believe that in order to make a change in your muscle flexibility, it is necessary to move a joint through a large excursion to actually put the muscle in the elongated position. Static stretching techniques dictate holding the stretch at end range for 30 seconds so that the soft tissue can change length. Dynamic stretching involves moving the joints but they are stretches that are done in motion. When you put your body through stretches in motion, the brain sends signals to the muscle fibers in that area that you are about to do work. Your body’s temperature rises and blood is pumped into the working areas of the body. This creates energy in preparation for the work that the muscle is about to do.
In both cases, joint movement is involved and is thought of as a necessary component to successfully elongate muscle and bring blood flow to the muscle to prepare for exercise.
Those health and fitness professionals who believe that rolling is more effective pre and post workout believe that the techniques that you have to use for foam rolling help engage your muscles. They believe that this recruitment of your muscles will serve as an effective warm up and may prevent injury during exercise. The rolling camp also believes that rolling is more effective than stretching post workout. Unlike stretching, rolling addresses the myofascial layer in the body and with the pressure of the roller, you can work through the adhesions in the fascia and relieve the tension in the muscle that has built up during your workout.
What Is The Answer???
There have been many articles and studies written by healthcare and fitness professionals comparing the benefits of stretching versus those of foam rolling. One study that I found particularly interesting compared the flexibility benefits across three groups: a group that performed stretches, a group that performed foam rolling, and a group that did neither.
The study showed no significant increase in flexibility in the stretching group over the rolling group and vice versa but it did show a significant increase in the flexibility in both groups over the group that did neither the stretching nor the rolling.
Ideally, a combination of stretching and foam rolling is optimal. However, the following are a few guidelines to choosing one over the other…..
1. Foam roll or perform dynamic stretching pre-workout because both will better prepare your body for work. Both techniques require movement, engage muscle, increase body temperature and increase blood flow to the muscles to get them “ready to workout”.
2. Perform static stretches only when you have to time to hold the stretch for 30 sec. Without this hold, the stretch is ineffective.
3. Foam roll rather than stretch the muscles that are hard to stretch like the muscles of the upper back and lower back.
4. Foam roll if you are recovering from an injury or have chronic pain. In this situation, rolling is more effective than stretching because it will address the fascia in your body which may be restricted and may prevent return to pain free function.
5. Perform static stretching if you have core instability that is causing your low back pain. Static stretching requires limited core muscle work and is therefore safer for your back.
6. When you stretch...do you feel a stretch sensation??? If not, it does not mean that your flexibility is normal. It may mean that the stretch is being performed with the wrong alignment or that the restriction in the muscle is so developed that it is preventing the elongation of the muscle. If this is the case...it is time to roll.