Stretching has been the panacea to people’s problems for what seems like forever. The narrative we’ve been sold around stretching has long been exaggerated by people. Stretching your hamstrings was the “fix” to back pain for decades. Stretching your chest seems to currently be the secret to “fixing” your posture. But what does it actually do? What does the feeling of being “looser” do to diminish pain? What does having an acute (for a short period of time) extra 2 cm’s of muscle length have to do with pain and function? The short is answer is nothing. I know that sounds mean and daunting but stick with me, I bring it full circle in the end.
First let’s examine the 3 types of stretching.
Static: holding a muscle in a lengthened position for an extended period of time
Dynamic: working a muscle/muscle group through it’s range of motion repetitively
Ballistic: bringing a muscle to its end-range and then “bouncing” in and out of end-range
A simple scan of the research will show emerging patterns of stretching of stretching being no better than a placebo. The effects of stretching (pain relief and increase muscle length) is usually very acute, and does not translate well into long-term changes. An even further review of the research will actually show a DECREASE in the elastic potential/properties of our musculoskeletal system. In Layman’s, we actually perform with less efficiency if our muscles are subjected to prolonged static stretching prior to an event that would warrant powerful, sustained, or frequent muscular contractions.
Being the hopeless optimist, it would be off-brand if I didn’t outline the times where I would suggest or be open to the thought of the benefits of stretching. Immediately followed by the times where I WOULDN’T suggest stretching.
- If you have time to stretch and actually LIKE stretching, go for it. The physiological benefit of that time spent stretching might actually make you perform better despite the small decrease in muscular power output we see with stretching.
- If you strongly believe that you will be “injured” if you don’t stretch. I’ve seen people DEAD SET on the idea that if they don’t stretch they will completely tear their muscles off of the bone. (Which isn’t quantifiable whether stretching helps reduce injury or not, considering if an injury was going to happen, it was going to anyways because it takes a tremendous amount of force to actually tear something in your body). Theoretically speaking, a tear happens when a significant stretch force if placed upon said tissue, so essentially stretching would INCREASE the length a muscle can go, potentially leaving the muscle more susceptible for injury/tear. *That is just MY theory, in no way is that scientific evidence.
- Stretching dynamically in the way you’re about to move. This is actually my BIGGEST recommendation as it is very time, biomechanically, and psychologically efficient. Put simply, this is sport specific stretching. For example, if you’re about to play tennis, the best way to “stretch” and warm-up is by slowly side-stepping/running back and forth on the court and slowly practicing your swing (overhead and across body) with increasing intensity.
- Spending so much time that you fatigue all the muscles you’re about to work out.
- Spend so much time that you don’t have the mental energy to do the activity you were stretching for.
- If you’re time constricted at the gym. You’d be better off utilizing your time making strength gains.
- If you believe that it will be the cure-all to all your perceived physical ailments. You may be distraught when it doesn’t work like everyone said it would. Don’t let it drive home the point that you’re broken or unfixable, you’re strong and highly adaptable. Remember that.
- If it hurts really bad. Be nice to yourself kind stranger.
- If you’re not achieving ANY of the outcomes you’re seeking with stretching.
- If you hate it. Pretty self-explanatory.
In summation, if you like stretching, go for it. Out of the 3 types of stretching I’d highly recommend dynamic stretching (it’s the closest thing to a workout than an actual workout). Lastly, remember there’s no quick fix to any problem. Things take time. Be patient and enjoy the process.
And as always, remember, you’re not fragile.
Tyler Paterson RMT
Motus Strength Health Club