Tuesday, November 15, 2011

It's a Stretch.

A lot of my clients ask me about stretching-- when should they do it, how long they should do it for, how often they should do it, etc.  And I generally tell them they can stretch on their own time if they want, but not before or while they are exercising.

First of all, if you are stretching to increase flexibility, research shows that you will need to stretch both the target muscle and its opposing muscle (for instance, hamstrings and quadriceps) for a minimum of 5 minutes each, which would mean 20 minutes for one set of muscles (one target and one opposing per limb).  That's a little longer than you've been stretching, huh?  Not only that, but about half of the effects of an eight-minute stretch are lost within 30 minutes (Ryan ED, Beck TW, Herda TJ, Hull HR, Hartman MJ, Costa PB, Defreitas JM, Stout JR, Cramer JT. The time course of musculotendinous stiffness responses following different durations of passive stretching. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 2008a: 38: 632639).  Not the most efficient way to gain flexibility, in my humble opinion.  

He stretches, probably.

A lot of us have been raised with the idea that stretching reduces injury and helps us perform better when we play our sport/do our activity.  However, research is pretty fuzzy on this.  There are a plethora of studies showing that stretching will decrease strength and power in the short term (for instance:  Avela J, Finni T, Liikavainio T, Niemela E, Komi PV. Neural and mechanical responses of the triceps surae muscle group after 1 h of repeated fast passive stretches. J Appl Physiol 2004: 96: 23252332, McBride JM, Deane R, Nimphius S. Effect of stretching on agonist – antagonist muscle activity and muscle force output during single and multiple joint isometric contractions. Scand J Med Sci Sports 2007: 17: 5460,   Manoel ME, Harris-Love MO, Danoff JV, Miller TA. Acute effects of static, dynamic, and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching on muscle power in women. J Strength Cond Res 2008: 22: 15281534.   As far as injury prevention goes, several studies show that stretching has no effect ( for instance, Van Mechelen W, Hlobil H, Kemper HC, Voorn WJ, De Jongh HR. Prevention of running injuries by warm-up, cool-down, and stretching exercises. Am J Sports Med 1993: 21: 711719, Pope R, Herbert R, Kirwan J. Effects of ankle dorsiflexion range and pre-exercise calf muscle stretching on injury risk in Army recruits. Aust J Physiother 1998: 44: 165172), while others show that it might possibly have a positive effect in reducing muscle strains (  Ekstrand J, Gillquist J, Liljedahl SO. Prevention of soccer injuries. Supervision by doctor and physiotherapist. Am J Sports Med 1983: 11: 116120 Bixler B, Jones RL. High-school football injuries: effects of a post-halftime arm-up and stretching routine. Fam Pract Res J 1992: 12 (2): 131139)  

So what does this all mean?  Honestly, it means more research is needed.  My own personal take is that stretching likely doesn't have much benefit unless you really enjoy stretching.  And when it comes down to it, if you feel like you improve from it, then you should do it-- no one else's body is quite like yours, so if your system responds well to stretching, then no one should stop you from continuing your practice. 

What do I recommend instead?  I've found mobility work to be very useful for my strength and flexibility needs.  I'll post more on that another time.   Stay tuned.  :)

What do you think?  Do you stretch?  Does it help?  Post your thoughts here!


  1. I don't stretch, I use joint mobility instead. I was taught this from my kb trainer back in the day when I was just learning about fitness stuff! I try to incorporate Yoga instead to help with flexibility, but as far as stretching before something-I don't. I do stretch some after long runs like marathons and the such.

  2. Very cool! I'm a big fan of JM as well. :)

  3. I think you position on stretching is pretty darn practical. As I've gotten older I've found that I have plenty of strength for daily stuff but it's the loss of mobility and flexibility that's my big challenge. Thanks for the post Melody!

  4. Thanks, T-Rod! I've found that I've gotten and maintained more flexibility from mobility drills than I ever did from stretching.