Can stretch make you bigger permanently

Correct stretching: "Ten to 15 seconds won't do anything"

One leg is straight, the other is bent while standing and pulled towards the body. Or: Lunge into a lunge and then push your back heel towards the floor. Everyone knows these stretching exercises from school. The aim is to stretch the muscles in order to achieve improved mobility. Many amateur athletes forget about it.

New York now has its own fitness studios where you can stretch your muscles under supervision. Allegedly, stretching and stretching together is one of the big fitness trends of the next few years. However, correct stretching often leads to heated discussions among athletes.

The biggest issues:

Why stretch at all?

"I wouldn't say across the board that everyone has to stretch," says sports physician Robert Fritz from the sports ordinance. In general, women are more flexible than men. As a test of your own mobility, he recommends, for example, touching the floor with your hands with your legs straight.

A common problem with runners is, for example, that their hip flexors are shortened by long periods of sitting in the office. This is shown by a sitting, bent running style - which can lead to back pain when running for a long time: In this case, according to Fritz, the hip flexor should be stretched - and the gluteal muscles trained, which then straighten the hip joint and generate a permanent stretching stimulus.

What happens when you stretch?

Sports scientists Markus Tilp and Andreas Konrad from the University of Graz have researched why joints become more flexible in the short and long term through stretching. The result: whoever stretches, changes the muscle tissue in the short term because it becomes more elastic and softer. That lasts about 40 minutes. In the six-week study, however, no long-term changes to the muscle tissue were noticed - the subjects' mobility was nevertheless greater as a result of the stretching.

This is due to a higher stretch tolerance that the test subjects developed, says Tilp: "The joint still generates the same resistance, but the pain sensation is reduced." This makes the joint more flexible.

However, recent studies have shown that people who stretch regularly for years - ballet dancers, for example - actually get longer muscle fibers. In a current study, sports scientist Andreas Konrad is investigating the question of when this change occurs in the muscles.

Static, dynamic - or something completely different?

"All three variants increase muscle elasticity in the short term," explains sports scientist Tilp. He recommends that beginners start with static stretching: one exercise is held. With dynamic stretching, you bob in and out of the stretch over and over again. "It's a little more complex," says Tilp. It then becomes difficult with a third method, so-called PNF stretching (short for Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation). The muscle is relaxed, tensed and stretched in different combinations. "With PNF, stronger forces act on the muscle," says Tilp.

Stretching before or after exercise?

That depends on the objective: If you want to be more flexible in the long term, you should only plan the extensive stretching after the physical exertion or even in an extra unit. But studies have also shown that stretching before sports that involve a lot of sprinting can reduce the risk of injury from muscle strains.

According to Tilp, if you want to stretch before training, you should do it as part of a warm-up session: break in before stretching to warm up your muscles, and after stretching, do some dynamic, sport-specific exercises.

Sports physician Fritz advises against at least static stretching exercises before particularly intensive training units or competitions: Anyone who stretches afterwards could worsen already existing muscle injuries. And if you stretch before a competition, the muscles are relieved of their basic tension. Again, there is nothing wrong with dynamic stretching before exercise.

How long and how often should you stretch?

Two units per week are enough, according to sports medicine specialist Fritz. He advises combining stretching with fascia and balance training - and focusing on the areas in the body that are causing problems. Each stretching exercise should be held for at least two minutes, "ten to 15 seconds, as some do, do not help," says Fritz.

Will stretching before exercising negatively affect my performance?

One hears again and again that stretching before exercising can cause a drop in performance. "This claim is based on studies that stretched extremely long," says Tilp. With a short stretching time, as is customary in many sports anyway, such losses would not have been shown.

Does stretching help against sore muscles?

No. Sore muscles are microtraumas, i.e. small injuries to the muscle that are then rebuilt. "Studies have shown that stretching is useless here," says Tilp.

What can you do wrong with stretching?

The goal is noticeable pulling in the muscle - if it hurts, stop immediately. If you overdo it while stretching, you risk tearing a muscle fiber. (Franziska Zoidl, 9 March 2019)