Monday, November 24, 2014

Is Stretching Really Helping You?

Of course, for every great workout, you need to make sure you have a solid warm-up and cool down--I've written about why both of these things are crucial in any exercise routine. Foam rolling, stability exercises and activation work are all necessary to help you recover and keep you injury free. What about stretching?

There are a few different types of stretching:
  1. Ballistic stretching
  2. Dynamic stretching
  3. Active stretching
  4. Passive (or relaxed) stretching
  5. Static stretching
  6. Isometric stretching
  7. PNF stretching
For the purposes of keeping this article short and sweet, I will only be covering static and passive stretching today. A static stretch is when you hold a position for a significant amount of time (30 seconds or more): think of your quad stretch, pigeon stretch, etc. A passive stretch is somewhat similar, but it involves the help of someone else who is forcing you into a greater range of motion.

Please, don't ever stretch like this...
Many people stretch in attempt to release tight areas, either before or after exercise: surely you have seen runners pulling their foot behind them to stretch their quads before a jog. While you may feel a bit looser, research has showed that static stretching before power or strength related activities may be counterproductive.

One study in the Journal of Athletic Training found that "both static and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching caused similar deficits in strength, power output, and muscle activation" on the leg extensions machine. Similarly, another study tested the effects of stretching on balance, reaction time and movement time. They found that "[an] acute bout of stretching
impaired the warm-up effect achieved under control conditions with balance and reaction/movement time."

Before exercise, stretching may actually have a negative effect of a wide range of performance markers.

Another problem I have with static stretching is that it does not really address the cause of the muscular tightness. Tension in a muscle is the result of weakness and instability somewhere else. For example, someone who has chronically tight upper traps probably has weak lower and middle traps, under-active lats, and poor shoulder stability. An athlete with tight hamstrings likely has weak glutes and a dysfunctional core. Stretching your hamstrings into oblivion is never going to strengthen your core. Instead, you must find out what those weaknesses are and address them as necessary. Stability exercises would be much more practical in alleviating hamstring tightness than yanking on your leg for extended periods of time.

While stretching does have its place, it is important to consider why you are stretching that area, and make sure it doesn't hinder your performance.


  1. Behm, David G., Andrew Bambury, Farrell Cahill, and Kevin Power. "Effect of Acute Static Stretching on Force, Balance, Reaction Time, and Movement Time." Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 36.8 (2004): 1397-402. Web.
  2. Shrier, I. "Acute Effects of Static and Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation Stretching on Muscle Strength and Power Output." Yearbook of Sports Medicine 2006 (2006): 158. Web.

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