There seems to be a lot of confusion around stretching. In this article series I’m going to first clear up some myths about stretching and then show you some of the stretches that are most important for firefighters to do (and some to avoid).
Should Firefighters Stretch At All?
One of the biggest myths out there is that you should stretch before athletic competition or, in the case of firefighters, before doing something physically demanding. People believe that this will reduce injury risk, reduce soreness and improve performance. Unfortunately, research shows that none of this is true.
Stretching Before Athletic Performance Has Shown to Hinder Performance
Stretching before exercise does not reduce soreness. In fact, there aren’t any scientifically proven ways to reduce soreness. Furthermore, stretching before athletic performance has actually been shown to hinder performance. The best time to stretch is after you exercise because your muscles need to be warm to stretch well.
The best way to reduce injury risk during physically demanding tasks is to be sure that your joints are capable of moving through a large range of motion – in other words, that you have adequate flexibility. And this is accomplished through regular stretching.
Firefighters Should Stretch, but Timing Is Important
There’s no need to be excessively flexible, in fact, data shows that actually increases injury risk in firefighters.
So, yes you should stretch, but timing is important. Stretch when your body temperature is up, either via exercise or passive heating like a shower. Stretch for the purpose of gaining adequate flexibility (so you can avoid injury) which means you’ll need to do it regularly – at least 3 days per week and ideally every day.
In the next articles in this series I’ll be showing you some of the best stretches for firefighters to do.
Photo Courtesy Karlie Moore