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To Stretch or Not?

Please let me apologize for our extended hiatus! I’ve been teaching like a crazy person all summer, Kevin has been working tons of overtime, and unfortunately the blog had to go on the backburner for a bit. But, now it’s almost fall and we should have plenty of time for our blog. Hooray! 🙂

One great thing that happened this summer was that a friend of mine guest lectured in one of my classes, and I learned a ton! He is a certified strength and conditioning coach, has a PhD in Exercise Physiology, and is an accomplished powerlifter. He knows a ton about weight lifting and I was thrilled to have him give a three hour lecture (plus, it meant I didn’t have to lecture that day).

The coolest thing I learned was how much convincing research there is about stretching; mostly, it’s stupid. Shocked? I was. Every team I’ve ever been on has started every practice by stretching. For those of you who work out, how many of you feel that you need to stretch before you start? It’s just good common sense, right? If you care at all about athletic performance, apparently not.

A study done at LSU looked at the effects of static stretching on sprint performance. The athletes stretched for 15 minutes (think bending down and reaching for your toes for 30 seconds at a time), and then did a 20 meter sprint as fast as possible. They compared the running time without stretching and interestingly, all the runners were significantly slower after stretching. The researchers even asked the runners which trial they thought was fastest, and every runner said they felt faster and more confidant on the stretching trial. But they were slower!

The same effect was found in endurance running as well. So why do we continue to stretch? For most of us, it’s habit. Our coaches told us to do it, our friends do it, and we’ve been doing it for years, but is it any good? What about injuries? For the longest time, I continued to stretch because I was afraid that if I didn’t, I’d  get injured. The research is mostly…inconclusive. (Here’s a link to a nice review article if you are nerdy like me) The problem is that stretching decreases the elasticity of a muscle, making it more compliant. Think about stretching a rubber band around a chair and leaving it for awhile. Not so stretchy. If you need to do a powerful, fast sport, you need all the elasticity you can get, and reducing elasticity can actually lead to injury. Even  low- intensity activity requires muscle elasticity, and while it probably doesn’t increase injury, it certainly doesn’t prevent it.

However, don’t take all this to mean you shouldn’t do any kind of warm-up before exercising. A slow jog and some dynamix stretching is wonderfully effective. Think leg swings, high knees, and butt-kicks to get you started.

Do you guys stretch before you exercise? What do you do and do you swear by it?

-Sara

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4 responses to this post.

  1. As an athlete from an early age, I was indoctrinated into the stretching world pretty heavily. Over the years I have seen and heard many arguments against it and now find myself not doing any more stretching than a cat waking up from a nap would do. I have kept warm up activities inn the mix and haven’t seen, felt or noticed any detriment to skipping the stretching. Also, as a trainer working with clients the last 10+ years I have adjusted my advice and haven’t noticed any difference with any of them either. Can’t say I’m shocked that conventional wisdom could be flawed… 🙂

    Reply

    • Hi Kyle,
      I too was indoctrinated into stretching, especially in injury prevention, but there seems to be absolutely no difference for me either. It’s amazing what we do just because someone told us to!

      Reply

  2. I don’t stretch before I workout anymore…but is there any research about after? I always static stretch after a run but my husband doesn’t. I’d be interested in reading about that! 🙂

    Reply

    • From what I’ve read, it doesn’t do you any good. Dynamic stretching and a cool down may be effective in increasing lactate clearance, but static stretching has no effect on muscle soreness or recovery. I don’t think it would hurt, but it’s probably not necessary. There’s a nice review by Herbert et al 2011, Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise, if you’re interested. Thanks!

      Reply

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