"To stretch or not to stretch?" is this still a question in the year 2011?
Why is this still an issue in the fitness industry? Stretching what? muscle, connective tissue? I still wonder how many FT's know why a muscle has tension and what happens to a muscle and its connective tissue when you "stretch" it? Did your certification include a study on Neurology? Love to hear your opinion?
For example, I'm not having you stretch to increase flexibility during a warm up, but we will during the cool down. Increasing flexibility with stretching should be saved for after the muscles are warm. When soreness extends in time, I would encourage longer stretching times and more consumption of water, but knowing the purpose of stretching when you do workouts will help you answer the question.
Post workout would be the time to use static stretching as this helps to relax the muscle and calm the nervous system.
Granted there are a lot of other systems out there and i only mentioned 2 of the more widely/popular forms of stretching, but the important part is to improve the body for activity and/or stay flexible after activity. There are more and more research papers out there touting benefits to stretch and guideline, you just have to be patient and search NSCA journals and maybe PUBMED.org.
Yes, it is still an issue because research is only now looking more closely at the complex functioning of fascia, and it is beginning to trickle into the consciousness of a wider field. I am using the term 'fascia' instead of 'connective tisssue' because connective tissue may also include blood or bones as per Gil Hedley's definition.
Clearly, the issue is to improve flexibility, and this is a legitimate concern. After all, good flexibility reduces risk of injury, and I won't even begin to talk about the entire lower back issue.
However, there is a certification which has fascia as its exclusive subject, and that is to be a MELT Instructor. MELT stands for Myofascial Energetic Length Technique, and this technique stipulates the connection between the nervous system and the fascia. Sue Hitzman who has created this method, uses the term neurofascial system to indicate the close relationship between the two. While this is not a study of neurology, it looks at the mutual impact between the two systems.
For that reason, MELT has become my prefered method of improving flexibility through the hydration of the fascia. The resulting lengthening allows the body to return to a more ideal alignment. I have seen very good results as a consequence of using this technique.
Here are the basics for the general populations, google the 2011 position stand for details.
Adults should do flexibility exercises at least two or three days each week to improve range of motion.
Each stretch should be held for 10-30 seconds to the point of tightness or slight discomfort.
Repeat each stretch two to four times, accumulating 60 seconds per stretch.
Static, dynamic, ballistic and PNF stretches are all effective.
Flexibility exercise is most effective when the muscle is warm. Try light aerobic activity or a hot bath to warm the muscles before stretching.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF FLEXIBILITY EXERCISE? Per ACSM
Although joint flexibility decreases with aging, flexibility can be improved across all age groups. Joint range of motion is improved transiently after flexibility exercise, chronically after approximately 3-4 wk of regular stretching at a frequency of at least two to three times a week, and it may improve in as few as 10 sessions with an intensive program. Flexibility exercises may enhance postural stability and balance (83), particularly when combined with resistance exercise (38). No consistent link has been shown between regular flexibility exercise and a reduction of musculotendinous injuries, prevention of low back pain, or DOMS.
I've never heard of the word "microscopicly" before! Stretching doesn't affect the muscle or connective tissues as much as it affects the soft issues of the endo and perimycium of the skeletal muscle.
It does appear that the most effective time to stretch is after a workout, as the environment of the muscle tissue is at an elevated temp. Since some of the connective tissue is plastic in nature, it make it more amenable to effective stretch.