Now here’s a topic I am sure most people feel passionately about–stretching. I do, but not the way you would probably expect. I used to be a big proponent of stretching. I faithfully stretched my muscles into submission after every run. I’d preach that others do the same, too.
Today, however, I don’t stretch. Ever. I do yoga a couple of times/week, yes, but I have given up regular old stretching. And here’s the thing–I feel better for it.
What made me change my ways? Dr. Stephen Gangemi, aka the SockDoc–my injury miracle worker–makes a pretty good case against it. Since I believe in his holistic approach to health, I decided to try life without stretching. Here’s what he has to say on the topic:
Stretching is perhaps one of the most controversial fitness subjects of present day. Passionate debates arise between those who perceive the benefits of stretching and those, like me, who think stretching is one of the worst activities you can partake in, especially if you’re already injured.
I don’t stretch. I’ve never advised any patient, athlete, or anyone who cares about their health to stretch. Flexibility is a reflection of health and fitness, not stretching.
The thought that stretching relaxes and is therapeutic for tight muscles is not only a misconception, it has never been proven. It actually weakens muscles, and that’s definitely not a good thing. Muscle tightness is due to an imbalance. The imbalance lies within the neuromuscular system – so it is a reflection of the nervous system via the muscular system. The idea that many physicians, therapists, coaches, and athletes have that you need to stretch a tight muscle to relax it and exercise a neurologically weak muscle to strengthen it is incorrect. It sounds nice, but your body doesn’t work that way. Clinicians who evaluate muscle function in athletes observe that stretching a muscle can make it longer and increase flexibility but this results in a reduction in function from a loss of power.
Some people don’t agree with the fact that stretching causes muscle weakness because they don’t feel weak after stretching. This is because most people feel the tight part of muscle imbalance and usually don’t feel muscle weakness until it begins affecting a joint or unless it’s severe enough to reduce muscle power. So you might feel your hamstring to be tight and the need to stretch it, but typically the weakness is in the antagonist muscle, in this case the quadriceps. Stretching the hamstrings will further weaken that “tight” muscle and perhaps temporarily provide symptomatic relief, but the problem will only continue to spiral downward.
So what causes muscle imbalances and the feeling of tight muscles and the need to stretch? Well, muscle imbalances occur for many reasons but ultimately there is some stress to the nervous system, either systemically (throughout the entire body), or locally. For example, if you injure your hamstring this may inhibit the function of that muscle so it hurts. You may perceive the weakness as pain in the area or you may have pain and/or tightness on the opposite side, in the quadriceps, as it tries to compensate for the hamstring weakness. You inclination would then be to stretch the quads to “relax” them, but the problem is really in the hamstrings; that is the area that needs to be addressed. Doing hamstring exercises won’t strengthen the muscle because that doesn’t effectively deal with the injury. So you can do hamstring curls or some other exercise all day long and it won’t turn the hamstrings on any more than stretching will relax the quadriceps.
We associate flexibility with health. This is true to some extent but more does not necessarily mean better. If you can’t touch your toes while standing with your knees locked out it doesn’t mean you are not healthy. Sure there is a “normal” but it is hard to say what that is and it’s different for everybody. If you can’t touch your knees while bending forward you’ve got a problem somewhere – or too short of arms!
Stretching may increase your flexibility, but you will most likely be weaker and the results are often short-lived. Saying that stretching reduces injuries or improves performance, (the two main reasons given for stretching), is like saying certain shoes will make you run or jump faster. Many continue to make both these claims, yet neither has ever been proven, and many still buy the shoes and stretch with them on. Stretching is not exercise and not a warm-up before a run or any activity. So balance your muscles and your entire body by balancing your life with proper exercise, diet, and other lifestyle factors – read ways to do that in the entire article here. Stop drinking that Kool-Aid propaganda and just say “No!” to stretching!
The SockDoc feels so passionately about the topic that he recently put together a t-shirt expressing his sentiments. Want one? You can buy it here.
What do you think about stretching? Yay or nay?