Should You Stretch or Strengthen?

Should You Stretch or Strengthen?

Whether you’re looking to recover from an injury, prevent an injury or just get into better shape (or even stay the same, wonderful shape you already are) the question: “should you stretch or strengthen?” is something you might ask, and it is frequently asked to health professionals such as the ones we have at Yellow Gazebo.

The funny thing is, some of our very own practitioners vary on how they’d answer this question, as it’s an oft-debated topic. Stretching has long been taught to be the way to get blood into your muscles to facilitate muscle recovery, and strengthening sort of does the opposite of that: it tightens muscles. So why would anyone want to strengthen? And doesn’t strengthening mean getting big and bulky? Who wants to do that?

Well, many body builders would laugh at the last question - obviously they love being big and bulky, and they’d be the first ones to tell you that it is not easy to build muscle. They spend HOURS at the gym, workout at least five days a week, and are incredibly careful about their diets. Doing a little strength training, I can assure you, will not get you bulky in any way that is easy or simple.

So if stretching gets blood into our muscles and helps with muscle recovery, why not just do more of that? Well, first of all we should not be stretching the way we do, i.e. holding a stretch for 30-60 seconds (read this article on AIS to see a much more effective way to get blood into the belly of your muscles, not just the ends where most stretching has an effect). Secondly, getting long, elongated muscle everywhere is not going to hold your body upright the way it needs to be held. We, without thinking about it, over-stretch our upper backs as we sit at our desks (or doing simple tasks like making dinner), while compressing our chest muscles. Then we stretch our backs thinking this will relieve our pain. But what about stretching your chest and STRENGTHENING your back? This would help prevent the pain in the first place. Believe me, I know! I’ve lived it, and I’ve seen it time and again in clinic.

Part of the answer to “should we stretch or strengthen?” should involve getting to know your muscle anatomy a little better too. Knowing how your back muscles work in opposition to your chest muscles or in coordination with your hip muscles (for example), can go a long way to making you feel better in your daily life. Pick up a book, browse the internet, or ask us health professionals some questions.

So many people see our chiropractors, physiotherapists, massage therapists, osteopaths (or me for acupuncture), and just expect that some treatment alone will make their pain go away. This approach is not going to give you a life free of pain, no matter how often you come for treatment. I’m afraid that you NEED to strengthen, and you need to probably stretch a little too. Mostly strengthen though, so ask us how - we’re happy to help, even if it means seeing you a little less often.

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