Poor, poor stretching. Once considered a staple to preparation for any sports activities, stretching has been singled out many times in recent years for its ineffectiveness in helping to prime the body for the rigors of athletic movement.
Yoga is often associated with long-hold stretching, as many of the poses do push the musculoskeletal system beyond its limitations at that time. But where yoga differs from stretching is that it also enhances muscular stability as well as proprioception. Stretching, studies have concluded, seems to have the opposite effect. Elongating muscles for prolonged periods reduces the ability to contract them quickly. It also makes it harder to coordinate movement.
But here's what you should remember most about stretching, one study concluded: It DOES NOT help prevent injuries.
The Institute of Sports Medicine in Copenhagen, Denmark published the result of a massive study involving 25 trials and 26,610 participants. Of that group, 3,464 had injuries. Its conclusion was that while strength training reduced acute injuries by two-thirds and overuse injuries by nearly a half, stretching did not help. Not one bit.
Stunned? You shouldn't be. How many times have you blown off stretching before a round of golf? Did you get hurt? I'm guessing you probably came away from the round unscathed. But if you did, I can almost guarantee it had more to do with your herky-jerky backswing than it did with not getting those quads loosened up.
The lesson here is to prime your muscles before athletic activity—not stretch them beyond critical function. Take a brisk walk before a round. Do some jumping jacks. Move at a controlled, yet vigorous pace and you'll be much better prepared for whatever you're about to do—including that yoga class.
Ron Kaspriske is the fitness editor of Golf Digest.
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