Is stretching for Bozos?

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!

Stretching is for Bozo's t-shirt as shown by the SockDoc's wife

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?

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  1. says

    I used to stretch fairly regularly, and I still do when my muscles are feeling particularly tight or so (I hear what the doc is saying about imbalance, but it still feels good!), but I’ve taken to relieving muscle tension and fatigue with the foam roller and the Stick much more than with stretching. I’m not sure whether it works any better, but it feels like productive pain!
    Abby @ Have Dental Floss, WIll Travel recently posted..Building to GustoMy Profile

  2. says

    I’ve never been a fan of stretching, although while standing at the start of a race, I will do a few stretches for my hamstrings.
    I do think stretching in the form of yoga is very beneficial but of course that takes stretching to new limits and enters the realm of strength workouts.

    On an unrelated note: Since you started running again but also have that 4 mile swim planned, what does your workout schedule look like (if you have one)? e.g how many times per wk do you run, bike, swim? and do you plan on miles or go by time? Thanks
    Joanne recently posted..The USDA Wants to Help and Light Gluten Free Pasta E FagioliMy Profile

  3. says

    Just over the last few months or so I’ve taken an approach to active movements instead of stretching, and I have been meaning to blog on it. So I’ll do some butt kicks and hip swings, usually before a long run.

    I still have a tendency to stretch after a run – but if that’s not needed it sure as heck would save me some time!

    I love yoga which begs the question — Will people get confused and think yoga is bad if stretching is bad?
    Holly recently posted..Half-Marathon Training: The First LegMy Profile

  4. says

    Great post! I have heard similiar debate about stretching. The engineer in me is always interested in “seeing the data!” so this has definitely peaked my interest. I’ve wondered if doing Bikram yoga (which I love) has made some achilles trouble worse for me in the past. And I’ve put a lot of thought into how that yoga best fits into my running schedule. I still haven’t decided what I’m going to do about it when I get back to training.
    Laura recently posted..Would you go for “Tense” or something else…?My Profile

  5. says

    Bozos should be plural and not possessive in the title of your post. (Professors can never stop with the red pen.)

    I do yoga 2-3 times a week, but I don’t really stretch before or after I run. I do sometimes get up and do some stretches after I’ve been sitting and grading papers or writing for a while, and I can tell you that it feels great then. If that makes me a bozo, so be it.
    Raquelita recently posted..January Goals: New Year, New Hair, New ProjectsMy Profile

  6. says

    I find it very frustrating that many “have-to-do” rituals turn out to be not sufficiently researched and proven. I stopped believing anything running magazines advise and treat myself as an experiment and see what works what doesn’t. It is not always easy but there does not seem to be a better option.
    BTW, US army has realized that before running static stretches are actually harmful many, many years ago. Some running magazines still advise doing them. Go figure.
    Ewa recently posted..Dangerous virtual worldMy Profile

  7. says

    Interesting post and makes me feel better now about when I decide to skip stretching. So many times I go straight from my run to other things (i.e kid wrangling) and I just don’t have the time. Now I don’t have to feel guilty!

    I stretch a tiny bit after runs. Maybe 5-7 minutes? Mostly calves/achilles and hips. NEVER before a run though.
    Allison Johnson recently posted..Shoes and StrikeMy Profile

  8. says

    I really have no opinion on stretching, but if pushed (or pulled) I would lean towards the Sock docs views. But mainly because it is one less thing I “should” be doing before a run. When in doubt I favor convenience (-:

    Really I get my muscles warmed up by running. My first mile is always at an extremely slow pace, if still feeling tight then mi 2 is even slower, this works for me. Sometimes, especially at the track, if we are jumping right into the workout I will do some ballistic stretching – run in place, jumping jacks …etc. But even this is because I am late and didn’t have time for a warmup mile!
    Jeff recently posted..Texas Half Marathon Race Report – 3rd Place OverallMy Profile

  9. OutsideRunner says

    I used to always stretch before a run, now I stretch after. Sometimes I forget and I can’t say I notice a difference. I’m willing to try skipping it altogether.

  10. says

    oh wow, I would love to believe this is true. I think runners are notoriously not great about stretching. I personally never stretch before a run. I do at least one yoga class a wk and then try to do some yoga poses throughout the wk. Sometimes, I stretch for 3-5 minutes post run, and for me, when I take the time to do it, IT FEELS SUPER. Then I wonder why I don’t do it after every run. Not sure if it’s beneficial or not, but I will continue stretching from time to time, post run. But , thank you, now when I fail to do it, I will not feel guilty about it, and I will claim it’s a waste of time. :) This way if I do it, I feel super, and if I do not do it, I will not be wasting my time. I’m a winner either way. lol !
    ginny recently posted..Kissing 2011 Farewell !My Profile

  11. says

    I never stretched and ended up feeling really tight and kept getting injuries. Now I stretch and I don’t feel tight and the injuries are less. So, I’m kind of FOR stretching. However, I think Yoga would get me the same results, as would working on posture and all around flexibility, balance, and strength improvements in my life. I don’t know that traditional stretching is the only answer, but it HAS helped ME :-)
    julie recently posted..When In Doubt…Look UpMy Profile

  12. Stacey says

    Thank you for this post!!! I have be battling with an SI joint/ piriformis injury on and off since July and this article gave me some insight! I’m in Disney now and doing Goofy’s challenge this weekend but just hope to get through without further aggravation!

  13. says

    Back in the day when I taught classes, we stretched. We warmed up, we stretched. We worked out. We cooled down. We stretched. Seemed “right.” Today I do yoga and do practice a few poses after my runs (mostly hamstring involved poses) but outside of yoga, I don’t stretch at all. Glad to read that what I do, might actually be healthier than I thought.

    Great post!
    shelly recently posted..I need a favor…My Profile

  14. says

    Interesting… I am a non stretcher but I always feel bad about admitting it as if I am not doing something that I should be doing. I went to a talk by Jeff Galloway at the Disney marathon last year and he made me feel better about it. He doesn’t suggest people stretch either. He said if you look around at races, you don’t see the Kenyans stretch and we all know how well they run. He said if you want to stretch at all it should be after running and not before.
    Karen W recently posted..A tale of two shoes…My Profile

  15. says

    Nice comments, thanks gang. BTW – yoga explanation is in the full post. I’m all for true yoga, not Westernized “stretch-til-you-break” yoga.

  16. says

    This is very eye-opening!

    I like to do active/dynamic stretches…aka movements like walking toe touches, trunk twists, lunges, donkey kicks, squats, etc. I have a routine of a bunch of active movements that I like to do before running.
    Kara recently posted..Sleeping is Dangerous!My Profile

  17. says

    I do dynamic stretching before a run (but not the bike…..) and it includes walking lunges, high-knees, butt-kicks and skipping. It gets my muscles warmed up and my heart rate going. I don’t stretch afterwards at all and have not for a very long time.

    I am incorporating yoga back into my training to gain flexibility so that I can run/swim/bike more efficiently and become balanced in my body.
    Jason @ Cook Train Eat Race recently posted..A Year In Reflection and PerspectiveMy Profile

  18. says

    It’s an interesting debate that may never be resolved because like many other things, it may depend solely on the person.

    Also, there are a number of yoga poses that are stretches. I know this because someone recommended I do yoga and I said there was no way I could do yoga. They then proceeded to ask me to do several different stretches which I may or may not have executed very well. When I was finsihed, they said that I had just done five different yoga poses.

    I think part of it has to do with the stretch itself. When I was rehabing my hip/gluteus the doctor said to never take the stretch to the point of pain or discomfort, which is a mistake most people make – so I can see where if people are making that mistake it could be detrimental, whether one is healthy or not.

    There are a few stretches that I do, but most of them are dynamic versus static.

  19. says

    Jason – I’m all for those types of activities. Yeah some call them dynamic stretches but I say you’re just moving thru natural motions, and that’s very beneficial. Keep it up.
    Harmony – plenty about plantar fasciitis on the SockDoc site – terrible to stretch that.
    Sock Doc recently posted..Injury-Free Running BookletMy Profile

  20. says

    I think stretching feels good, but I thought what he had to say about weakness in the opposite muscle was interesting. My quads, which I never feel the need to stretch, are often the sorest muscle in my body after a hard race. Are they weak? Does it have to do with my tight hamstrings? Hmm…

    Honestly, I’d love to be able to skip stretching just to save the time. But what to do about tight muscles in lieu of it? I guess I need to go read his other article.
    Terzah recently posted..Using My Olympic Trials Media PassMy Profile

  21. says

    I am currently a recovery stretching addict! I used to stretch after EVERY run! I thought it was the answer to all my problems. But then I heard about some research that showed stretching muscles actually make them tear so much easier and I stopped at once. I now realize that if a muscle is hurting its because it’s the victim – don’t beat up the victim by stretching it out or foam rolling it!! Find out what the real problem is and fix THAT instead!!

  22. says

    Yeah, I gave up stretching more than a year ago and feel all the better for it. I think my motivation was getting faster after reading something about how stretching loosens the hamstrings to the detriment of your pace. I can’t say I’ve gotten much faster, but I haven’t suffered any physical setbacks from quitting. Cheers!
    Viper recently posted..Like Starting OverMy Profile

  23. says

    I don’t stretch on a daily basis. I do a few toes touches, hamstring pulls and I’m off on my run (no more than 15-30 seconds). I think I would stretch more after my runs if I had time – but usually stop running (on the Treadmill) when my son wakes up so stretching falls by the waste side. Interesting post – definitely makes me feel better now about not stretching!!!
    Michele @ nycrunningmama recently posted..What’s better than two PRs in one day?My Profile

  24. says

    Depends on the type of “stretch” we’re talking about. If it is purposeful and geared toward range of motion around a JOINT, then I do it religiously. I all but quit with the static stretching-plus dynamic movement gets you out of the single-plane mode, which helps every once in a while. Plus, its just more entertaining!

  25. says

    I’ve made a conscious effort to start stretching regularly and I think it actually helps. Not all stretching is the same, though. I never stretch when my muscles are cold and I stretch equally – never further on one side than the other in an attempt to balance everything out. I’m curious about the SockDoc’s ideas here – if flexibility is a reflection of health, then even in the peak of training I wasn’t very healthy!
    Jenn recently posted..Back to the GrindMy Profile

  26. says

    I have read this side of the stretching story before, yes it makes sense, have I stopped stretching, no. I stretch after exercise because its what I know, that and no one has ever offered me an alternative therapy to stretching to relieve my intensely tight calf muscles after a run. I am a firm believe in massage too :-)
    Lara recently posted..Wordless WednesdayMy Profile

  27. says

    I really go back and forth. I always stretch after a run, never before. When I am deep into it, I will get on the mat once or even twice a day. On the flip side, I can go for weeks with out it and hardly notice a difference. It is true that generally the deeper I am into training for something the more often I tent to stretch.

    Good post, thanks for sharing.
    Jen recently posted..Taking a Step BackMy Profile

  28. says

    Amanda, you just made my brain hurt. So all along I thought stretching was vital to muscle health and yadda yadda yadda, and now you’re telling me it’s not? This is a whole new concept for me that I will need to slowly wrap my brain around.

    Okay, so my issue is EXTREMELY tight calves. They are so tight sometimes they feel like they’ll just tear! So if I shouldn’t stretch them, what should I do? I’m sure you’ll be getting a lot of these “HELP!” questions.

    Great information. You always get me thinking.
    Kate @ Run with Kate recently posted..A Healthy Start to 2012My Profile

  29. says

    I will now follow his blog and newsletter…interesting stuff
    makes sense to me

    I dont really strech….touching my toes before heading out does that count?
    I think not!!!

    I do one thing only : raise calfs…not sure how to write that…but for PF and achille pain it does help me to do those.
    Caroline recently posted..Masterpieces, movies, running.My Profile

  30. says

    I totally agree with the no stretching! It slowly tears the fibers (the weakening) and that’s not good to do before or after you run! Who wants to stretch to feel more flexible and feel like they warmed up and run on weakened muscles? Rip, pop, tear…that’s not the fun kind of Rice Krispies! My abductor tear was because of pelvic tilt imbalances, not lack of flexibility. I do, however, love my Stick for rolling!!
    RunningMoose recently posted..Outside run!My Profile

  31. says

    Interesting concept. I still can’t see myself giving stretching completely though. I’ve had too many injuries or tight spots that I’ve gotten ride of through stretching and massage.

    That being said, there are definitely BAD stretches out there. Or good stretches that are being done wrong, and causing more harm than good.

    And the converse (or compliment) to your point about flexibility not equaling health – being REALLY flexible can actually be harmful for certain activities.

    A yogi that can curl up in a ball and stick her head up her booty is probably at a high risk of injury if they jump into running without allowing time to let their body adjust. Muscles are only supposed to stretch to a certain point to keep you from going outside of safe (and efficient) ranges of motion. If you’ve got insanely loose muscles, you don’t have as much keeping you within that safe range.

    Like anything, there are helpful stretches, hurtful ones. Good times to stretch and bad times. For you, my guess is that yoga is all the stretching that your body needs to stay happy.

    Same here. An occasional yoga session and some TLC through massaging and stretching when I decide I need it.
    Jamie recently posted..Rev3 Staff Runs Across America For CancerMy Profile

  32. says

    I don’t stretch, but not because of any reason other than I’m lazy. But what I do know about stretching for me personally, is that when I was in HS and college, I stretched ALL the time before/after runs and I was way more flexible. Now (no stretching), I can’t even touch my toes.
    Erin recently posted..Puffs plus, bubble beards, and good KarmaMy Profile

  33. says

    I always thought I should stretch more because I have never been flexible – I havent been able to touch my toes since I was little. I just cant get myself to stretch because it never really makes me feel better. Yoga does help. I also just found this stuff called AIS (active isolated stretching- i think) and it seems pretty good, I guess its all about moving the muscles and not holding them in any one position for more than a few seconds. I loved reading the sock docs website – so much info and not enough time! It really makes me want to examine my diet more and work to eat better because I have been noticing that I am eating too much carbs and crave sugar alot! But last year, I didn’t crave sugar as much and I cant really pinpoint why.
    J recently posted..And we have snowMy Profile

  34. says

    I get up early to stretch every day. The only time I don’t stretch is when I swim in the morning because I don’t have time to do both. I feel it helps but who knows? I enjoy it and it a relaxing morning ritual.

  35. says

    I don’t like stretching and wish I could skip it! I never stretch before but started to stretch after my runs since I had hip bursitis. Since I stretch after my run for 5 minutes I never had a problem anymore. What does the he recommend to do instead of stretching? Very interesting article!!
    Christine recently posted..What Has Running Taught You?My Profile

  36. says

    I’m a stretcher, but I tend to do it less and less the fitter I get. Except for my calves. I dutifully stand on my slant board after most runs to help keep my PF at bay (incidentally, that’s generally when I make my Words With Friends moves). I also never stretch cold muscles. I stretch after runs or post-warm up/pre workout.
    Leah @ Chasing Atalanta recently posted..2011 Year in ReviewMy Profile

  37. says

    Sara – you got it right; thanks!

    Kate – tight calves are usually from the wrong footwear (maybe you need more of a minimalist type shoe, or less), or too much stress on the good ol’ adrenal glands. The calves are linked to the adrenal glands. Training too much or too hard w/o adequate recovery or other life stressors typically affect the calf muscles as well as the plantar fascia and the muscles that support the knees too.

    Jamie – stretching and injuries go hand-in-hand. You really never have resolved those injuries, your body has just adapted. So you will continue to stretch, and continue to get injured. But really the injury just moves to another area, and you chase it down with stretching again, and again…

    Christine – I have a post on the SD site on bursitis. :)

    • says

      Fascinating stuff! I’ve worn both minimal and regular neutral shoes, and always have tight calves. I guess I should look into adrenal stuff.

      By the way, I ran this morning and did not stretch afterwards.

  38. says

    Interesting post. As a physical therapist It goes against much of what I learned! But it is a great devils advocate argument. I stretch after a run usually because my legs are feeling tight. Ive been trying to do more dynamic stretching instead.
    Stephanie Anne recently posted..Disney here I come!My Profile

  39. says

    I think we need to change the term “stretching” into “range of motion exercise,” because that is what helps our body move the way it’s supposed to in a comfortable, effective way. The idea behind FROM (functional range of motion) is that if you constantly tighten your muscles, through lifting or exercise, without easing them back to their normal, relaxed position afterward, your muscles are more prone to tears and the tendons to sprains and strains. But rather than stretching by trying to fold ourselves in half or pull our toes up to our foreheads, we should only stretch as far as we can move a limb under our own power. I think the main thing to take from what your doctor says is that an over-stretched muscle can become like an over-stretched rubber band – it loses it’s elasticity and can no longer “snap” back the way it used to.
    Jen recently posted..Tuesday Night Spin – NYE Take IIMy Profile


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