Stretching is the act of elongation of skeletal muscles, typically done to improve the elasticity of the muscle. It is often done before (and/or after) physical exercise as part of a “warm-up” to promote blood flow for muscle cushioning, or “cool-down” in order to help flush harmful toxins from the muscle. The latter of which is firmly believed to help reduce the soreness felt after training (sometimes occurring days after training, known as delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS). Researchers from Norway, Australia and the UK wanted to see whether stretching before and after exercise help reduce soreness and reduce the chance of injury. Using the internet, over two thousand people participated, split into two groups – stretch and non-stretch – and gave feedback online over twelve weeks. What they found was that stretching did not seem to prevent injury, but did seem to reduce what they call “bothersome soreness” of the legs, buttocks and back. The study is hardly definitive, as feedback was subjective (albeit against a control group), and variables were plentiful. Additionally, many people find a good stretch before and after training mentally reassuring, and there are even some camps who believe that stretching after a workout helps make muscle fascia more malleable and willing to grow. There is even some speculation that stretched fascia is what allows the “muscle memory” phenomena to occur. There is, however, no scientific evidence in support of fascia stretching and increased muscle growth.
Source: Jamtvedt G, Herbert RD, Flottorp S, Odgaard-Jensen J, Håvelsrud K, Barratt A, Mathieu E, Burls A, Oxman AD. A pragmatic randomised trial of stretching before and after physical activity to prevent injury and soreness. Br J Sports Med. 2009 Jun 11.