And as to the “multiple shools of thought” on stretching, most are not schools at all. There is a lot of confusion because most fitness professionals don’t have the time to read all the research and data coming out of the exercise science studies. Many of us depend on summaries, which isn’t a bad thing. But that leaves out a lot of information that would give you the opportunity to decide things like how well the study was designed, how large the study population was, over how long a period the study ran, etc. In the case of the stretching “controversy”, I have not come across a solid study that suggested that stretching was pointless or unnecessary. There have been studies suggesting that stretching for improved long term ROM (what is commonly referred to as flexibility) led to diminished capacity to perform when the stretching was done prior to certain forms of exercise like strength training. But it has been known for a long time that stretching for improved flexibility was better done at the end of an exercise session. Stretching before or during an exercise session (or competition event) should be done to allow the ROM that is required for the activity. That is, if you are doing squats and feel tightness/discomfort when reachng the end point of the ROM for your squat, you would stretch enough to alleviate this from occuring. And if you could not alleviate the issue, you should not continue to perform the squat at that time. I could continue this discussion, but if you are still unsure as to what I am talking about, you can contact me through my website or profile. www.hawaiifitnessacademy.com .
And as a follow up, anything done to excess is not good. You can stretch too much, lift too much, run too much. Also, stretching should never cause pain in uninjured areas. And stretching an injured area should be cleared with a physician or physical therapist with recommendations for ROM of specific stretching exercises and the level of discomfort that is acceptable. In general, I recommend that any pain is a reason to stop the stretch in question and consult a professional as to continuing the stretch.
I would only add to Martin’s recommendation that stretching can lead to a relaxation response. I recommend stretching exercise following a warm-up, to increase the temperature in the soft tissues associated with the target muscle(s). And, yes, I do agree with those who suggest that over-stretching can be a factor in joint laxity.
Stretching should be done for one of two reasons. One is to improve poor range of motion. The other is for specific ROM needs.
If a person is habitually tight in a particular muscle group or around a particular joint, stretching to achieve a proper ROM is wise and will help with ADL and reduce injury in and aroung that joint.
If a person has a need for a greater than average ROM, they would use stretching to achieve that ROM. As in the case of a gymnast, swimmer, etc. or for certain occupations with a specific task that requires a greater ROM.
It is possible to exceed a reasonable ROM while stretching. This is not adivsed. Joint laxity can also lead to injury.
I second Sean’s recommendation of Foundation Training. I have no disc at S1/L5 and a compressed disc at L3/L4. I experienced tremendous relief of years of chronic lumbar pain within three weeks of daily Foundation Training, which I have continued to practice daily a.m. over the past two years. One strengthens and lengthens simultaneously in this method.