Stretching is (Mostly) a Waste of Time

Stretching is (Mostly) a Waste of Time

There’s a wide­spread belief that stretch­ing is an impor­tant com­po­nent of exer­cise.  Time to reverse your think­ing 180 degrees — there’s lit­tle research to show that stretch­ing is good for much of any­thing.

There are four ben­e­fits typ­i­cal­ly pro­posed for stretch­ing.

  1. warm­ing up
  2. pre­vent­ing sore­ness or injury
  3. increas­ing flex­i­bil­i­ty
  4. enhanc­ing per­for­mance.

Does stretching help with any of these things?

hip flexor stretch

There are big prob­lems with the con­cept of stretch­ing as well as the many spe­cif­ic stretch­ing tech­niques that have been pro­posed.

  • For one thing, stretch­ing doesn’t work at all as part of a warm up.  Light, easy move­ment involv­ing the entire body is the best way to grad­u­al­ly warm up for activ­i­ty – it uses more mus­cle groups and gen­er­ates more inter­nal meta­bol­ic heat.  Stretch­ing doesn’t do any of that.
  • Stretch­ing hasn’t been shown to pre­vent injury, either.
  • Research has also shown that your mus­cle is actu­al­ly weak­er after stretch­ing it.
  • Prop­er stretch­ing tech­nique is also con­tro­ver­sial.  Many author­i­ties have sug­gest­ed spe­cif­ic ways to stretch, but none have been shown to be bet­ter than any oth­ers.
  • Stretch­ing for a few min­utes doesn’t even length­en your mus­cles.  Almost all research shows the oppo­site – that mus­cles don’t change length from a stretch­ing pro­gram. (The sin­gle research study that showed a change in mus­cle length used a stretch­ing time of 20 min­utes – that’s 20 min­utes for a sin­gle mus­cle group.)
  • Want anoth­er opin­ion?  Here are the views of Paul Ingra­ham, a mas­sage ther­a­pist and health jour­nal­ist in Van­cou­ver.  He’s writ­ten a whole arti­cle on this sub­ject on his web­site SaveYourself.ca.  (The entire site is packed with oth­er gems too.)

In par­tic­u­lar, plen­ti­ful recent stretch­ing research has shown that it doesn’t (1) warm you up, (2) pre­vent sore­ness or injury, or (3) enhance pefor­mance. No oth­er mea­sur­able and sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fit to stretch­ing has ever been proven. Even if it worked, stretch­ing would be inef­fi­cient, “prop­er” tech­nique is con­tro­ver­sial at best, and many key mus­cles are actu­al­ly bio­me­chan­i­cal­ly impos­si­ble to stretch — like most of the quadri­ceps group.

Are there stretching benefits?

Like any move­ment activ­i­ty, stretch­ing has an effect on your kines­thet­ic feed­back and move­ment learn­ing.

That means that each move­ment expe­ri­ence you have – stretch­ing includ­ed – helps your brain tune in to the sig­nals com­ing in from your joints and mus­cles and improves your ner­vous system’s abil­i­ty to respond to the move­ment demands placed on it.  You devel­op  an ever-wider and bet­ter-tuned move­ment reper­to­ry.

In oth­er words, stretch­es — and oth­er move­ment expe­ri­ences that require you to tune in to your body —  help you learn.

Sor­ry — they won’t help you choose the cor­rect answer on your cal­cu­lus mid-term.  But they will help you become more adept and respon­sive to your envi­ron­ment and more in tune with your inner goings-on. You’ll be health­i­er and enjoy an improved mood.  You’ll avoid prob­lems like mus­cu­loskele­tal pain, poor pos­ture, arthri­tis, and de-con­di­tion­ing.

Okay, what should I do instead of stretching?

  • For warm­ing up, move your body light­ly but vig­or­ous­ly, engag­ing as many body parts as you can
  • To keep your joints lim­ber, do easy, cyclic move­ments uti­liz­ing the full range of motion of the joints
  • For flex­i­bil­i­ty, chal­lenge your­self to move ful­ly into parts of your move­ment range that are dif­fi­cult for you to achieve.  You don’t have to hold an extreme end­point in order to derive the ben­e­fit
  • To improve your over­all body aware­ness, while you’re exer­cis­ing or mov­ing (which is all the time) — pay atten­tion.  And try a move­ment class that involves learn­ing new move­ment pat­terns: tan­go, squash, t’ai ch’i, Feldenkrais, or many more.
  • Learn more about Dr. Lavine’s Pre­scrip­tion Exer­cise Series.  To get start­ed, here’s info on Dr. Lavine’s Top Five Exer­cis­es To Strength­en Your Shoul­der and Pre­vent Rota­tor Cuff Prob­lems

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About Ronald Lavine, D.C.

Dr. Lavine has more than thirty years' experience helping patients alleviate pain and restore health using diverse, scientifically-based manual therapy and therapeutic exercise and alignment methods.

His website, askdrlavine.com, provides more information about his approach.

Please contact him at drlavine@yourbodyofknowledge.com or at 212-400-9663.

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