Does Stretching Elongate Muscles?


Whether you're preparing for a run or getting ready for a hockey game, your coach or team trainer will likely give you a piece of advice common to many sports: Remember to stretch before you begin. Stretching before and after athletic activity may help you reduce the risk of injury and provide other benefits, so making a few minutes for this flexibility-enhancing exercise can be well worth the time it requires.

Does Stretching Elongate Muscles?

When you stretch, the action pulls on the fibers within your muscles, reducing the amount of overlap that is present in the thin and thick muscle fibers when your muscles are at rest. When you stretch out these muscle fibers, it activates a stretch reflex, which is your body's way of preventing you from elongating your muscles too much and causing injury. Even with this reflex, though, the act of stretching will temporarily elongate your muscles by moving the muscle fibers.

How to Enhance Muscle Elongation

When you first begin a stretching routine, you may notice that your muscles feel tight or that you do not have much flexibility. However, you can build up flexibility and increase the amount of elongation in your muscles if you stretch frequently. When you stretch on a regular basis, the component of your muscle responsible for the stretch reflex -- called the muscle spindle -- becomes accustomed to the elongated position and does not trigger such a strong stretch reflex. Thus, you can stretch your muscles further without a problem.

Benefits of Elongation

Elongating your muscles through stretching provides a significant benefit for athletes, as it allows your joints to move through their entire ranges of motion. This gives you freedom of movement when playing sports and eliminates tightness that can hamper performance and lead to injury. Tightness and an inability to move freely can put excess stress on connective tissues such as tendons, producing conditions like tendinitis.

Other Benefits of Stretching

In addition to elongating muscles, stretching can also increase blood flow to your muscles. This is beneficial because your muscles need oxygen to function, and blood cells bring oxygen to your muscles. Performing stretches may also help you increase your strength when lifting weights and improve your endurance when performing cardiovascular activity.