Stretching Before Exercise: Good or Bad?
It still amazes me that that not only personal trainers but many other health professionals are still unclear on how, when and why to prescribe stretching to a patient or client. The meaning of flexibility for some still remains as distant as the mythical creature: the Jillian Michaels.
One of my clients forwarded me a pretty recent article titled “Stretching Before Exercise ‘Is Counter Productive.” The keyword in that title is the word ‘IS’ which would imply that everyone is the same and has the same imbalances. Another article claims that “Experts say: Don’t Stretch Before Exercise.” My only question is what “f”ing experts are saying this? I am curious as to whether they work with real people.
Working with hundreds of clients over the past several years I have found that this is hardly the case. Everyone has unique needs and tendencies towards exercise so what is good for one person may be bad for another and vice versa. Who knew?
Before I continue let me make it clear that I do not believe that static stretching is beneficial or even necessary as part of a proper warm-up. Stretching does have it’s place but that is only after you have found a reason to stretch something in the first place.
The question that you should be answering is what are you stretching and why are you stretching it? Is it muscle stiffness? A “short” muscle? Core stiffness? Tight soft tissue? An injury (God I hope not)? To save the planet? To play Twister? To save the planet while playing Twister?
The point I’m getting at is that you need a reason to stretch in the first place. What most people perceive as muscle stiffness may in fact be core stiffness and/or soft tissue adhesion in which case all the stretching it the world won’t help you. This is where soft tissue techniques such as foam rolling and active mobility and corrective exercise will come in to play.
For some clients though, whom stretching will benefit due to actual muscle tightness I find it necessary to stretch several times throughout the day. Sometimes this might mean incorporating some static stretches to the warm-up and throughout the program. In some instances, soft tissue work and calculated stretching is needed before corrective exercises to get length to train certain patterns.
I hope this makes sense to said “experts”. I sort of feel like a badass for going against these “professionals”.
*puts Viking helmet on*
The truth is that there are numerous studies that stretching prior to exercise does NOT increase the risk of injury or decrease performance. Check ‘em out:
- Static stretching has no effect on running economy, caloric expenditure, or endurance performance in female distance runners. Read more.
- Acute passive stretching does not have an effect on V̇O(2max) , time and energy expenditure during heavy constant load exercise during cycling. There is evidence of impairment in cycling efficiency due to changes in muscle neural activation and viscoelastic characteristics induced by stretching. Read more.
- Static stretching does not alter pre and post-landing muscle activation. Static stretching, done acutely or over a 14-day period does not result in measurable differences of mean EMG amplitude during a drop landing. Static stretching may not impede dynamic stability of joints about which stretched muscles cross. Read more.
- Static stretching hinders strength and power when done DIRECTLY prior to a given exercise. The effects have not been proven for a longer duration prior to exercise such as in addition to a proper warm-up. Read more.
Two resources that I refer to when creating programs and working with my clients are Magnificent Mobility by Eric Cressey and Mike Robertson as well as AMPED Warm-up by Jim Smith. Both are phenomenal resources for trainers, coaches and weekend warriors alike who want a better understanding of proper warm-up techniques.