I am a fan of a good stretch. And maintaining your joints flexibility, suppleness and robustness is, in my opinion, THE MOST IMPORTANT GOAL you can have.
Ask any health professional, or sports coach, or athlete, or weekend warrior, “Why do you Stretch?” and you will almost certainly get one of the following responses;
- To keep my muscles loose and flexible
- To warm up or cool down after exercises
- To prevent muscle soreness after a workout
You may also hear;
- It feels good and I like it.
Finally you may even hear:
- I don’t stretch.
I have been guilty of saying all of the above throughout my time, but as a Health Professional I have been pushing the top 3 day in, day out. Making every client spend 5 minutes at the end of every session doing stretches to 1) keep flexible, 2) cool down, 3) prevent soreness.
But I’m writing this now to say I have been wasting their time. And you may be doing the same.
THE JURY IS OUT ON STRETCHING.
It does NONE OF THE ABOVE!
(N.B – I must stress in here this is for STATIC Stretching ONLY. Holding a muscle statically in its lengthened state for an extended period of time. While there have been studies that show there are benefits, the overwhelming amount of research provides NO EVIDENCE to support these claims)
- Herbert RD, Gabriel M. Effects of stretching before and after exercising on muscle soreness and risk of injury: systematic review. BMJ. 2002 Aug;325(7362):468.
- Lund H, et al. The effect of passive stretching on delayed onset muscle soreness, and other detrimental effects following eccentric exercise.Scand J Med Sci Sports. 1998 Aug;8(4):216–21.
- Shrier I. Stretching before exercise does not reduce the risk of local muscle injury: a critical review of the clinical and basic science literature.Clin J Sport Med. 1999;9.
- Pope RP, Herbert RD, Kirwan JD, et al. A randomized trial of pre-exercise stretching for prevention of lower-limb injury.Medicine Science in Sports Exercise. 2000 Feb;32(2):271–7.
What’s most interesting about these papers are OLD. Latest one is still over 16 years old! And there has been no counter-evidence to dispute this.
So why do you still see so many people stretching before and after a workout?
My question exactly! And my only answer is, HABIT. I’m guilty of it myself. It’s a bad habit that has been ingrained in gym-culture.
And I’m going to try and kick the habit.
If you’re claiming point 4, I’m with you! Stretch until the cows come home if it feels good! But if you’re reasons were 1, 2 or 3, you need to do something else! Luckily, I’m here to help. Trouble is, each point requires a different approach.
- To Keep my Muscles Loose and flexible
There is a whole essay here (COMING SOON) on what we mean by flexibility. However, using the basic definition of your joints range of motion, this is best maintained through “controlled movements” of that joint through its “full range of motion”.
Static stretching targets your passive flexibility, and is often carried out with the addition of an external force to achieve the stretch. You can think of this as an unnatural position for your body, and you will only obtain a momentary gain in flexibility that will 100% disappear.
However, Mobility Training such as Functional Range Conditioning can help achieve permanent gains in ACTIVE and passive flexibility.
(Follow up article coming soon, in the meantime, if you are interested, book in with my at reception, or come along to my MOVE class).
- To Warm Up or Cool Down
Firstly, NEVER STRETCH A COLD MUSCLE – recipe for injury. A warm up should consist of the following parts:
- Raise heart rate and breathing rate
- Mobilise Joints
- Activate Muscles
- Build up to Working Intensity.
You could argue static stretching can mobilise joints, but you are better off doing dynamic stretches and “Mobility Flows” like the one below to take your joints through their full range of motion.
If it’s good enough for the Duke of Cambridge…
- To prevent Muscle Soreness after workouts
It doesn’t. Science is science. Exercises causes micro-damage to the muscle tissues (little tears) which repair during rest a little bigger and stronger. Does it sound like pulling the slightly frayed and torn tissue to its end range holding it there (probably tearing a little more), is going to help recovery?
An active cool down, or 5 minutes of gentle movement (treadmill walking, cycling, Mobility Flows, Foam roller) will keep the heart pumping blood around the body to the damaged muscle cells, allow the healing process to take place and clear away any waste products.
Now I am not saying STOP STRETCHING!
Please don’t confuse my message here. If you like holding stretches, you feel you gain benefits from it and it feel good, by all means carry on. I’m saying that for all the reasons you may stretch your muscles, there are other methods which are a more effective use of your time.
If you are looking to take your Joint Health and Mobility seriously, contact me for an FRC Mobility Program, or attend my MOVE Class.
Personal Trainer Sevenoaks
Better Body Group