To stretch or not? That's still the big question

Q&a

October 28, 2005|By GAILOR LARGE | GAILOR LARGE,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Conventional wisdom says you should stretch before and after exercise to prevent injury and soreness. But a recent report in the British Medical Journal showing that stretching does not prevent next-day muscle soreness or injuries seems to refute that notion. Is there literature that supports stretching?

The problem is that there are no gold-standard studies on stretching. The studies that the British Medical Journal cites had a total of 77 participants, too few to be statistically significant.

To me, it makes sense to err on the conservative side and stretch - something that professionals have recommended for many years based on anecdotal evidence. Why not stretch, particularly because there are benefits to being flexible?

Also, how are you defining injury? While stretching your hamstrings may or may not prevent a hamstring tear, for instance, having tight hamstrings can contribute to back problems.

What I do like about the report is that it emphasizes the importance of strengthening to reduce the risk of injury. As for stretching, the jury is still out.

My trainer has stood me up twice. I like him a lot personally, and I do get a good workout, but I'm really annoyed. Also, he's a talker, so I feel like I only get 30 minutes of working out during our 50-minute sessions. Still, we get along, and I don't feel comfortable telling him I want to end our sessions. What should I do?

Dump him. When it comes to personal training, there are dozens of fish in the sea. You should be able to find a trainer who suits your personality, is punctual and uses the full session to train you - or to talk productively about workout strategies or nutrition.

Ask your gym's manager if he or she can recommend anyone else, and give that person a try. If you feel uncomfortable "breaking up" with your trainer, you can always tell him you want the variety of someone new, or, if you can make the case, that it's simply a scheduling issue.

How come BMI is a better measure of health than weight is? How do I figure out what mine is and whether it's too high or too low?

Your body mass index, or BMI, is a better indicator of overall health because it takes into account your weight and your height.

To calculate your BMI, begin with your weight in pounds, divide it by your height in inches squared, and multiply that by 703.

Sound complicated? You can also find your BMI with a few keystrokes at shape.com/tools/calc/bmi. An ideal BMI is one in the 20-25 range. Those with a BMI of 26-29 are considered overweight, 30 and above are obese. You are underweight if you fall below 18.5.

Do you have a fitness question? You can submit questions via e-mail to fitness@baltsun.com, or online at baltimoresun.com/healthscience, or in writing to The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, MD 21278.

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