Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Stretching Before Exercise is A Waste of Time

I read this interesting article on stretching before exercise and if you want to read the whole thing go to the above link…It's pretty long so for those who don't want to read here are some of the highlights that I thought that can be helpful.

His whole article can be summed up with the following sentence: “Stretching as we know it — the kind of typical stretching that the average person does at the gym, or even the kind of stretching that most athletes do — is mostly a waste of time.”

The article examines stretching from the stand point of “Why do people stretch?” and does stretching actually achieve those goals?  So why do people stretch? The top 5 reasons are:

1)    Warming Up
2)    Prevention of injury
3)    Prevention of Muscle Soreness
4)    Flexibility
5)    Performance Enhancement

In the article the author takes these things one by one and shows that there is no credible scientific evidence to back any of them up.  So what is stretching good for?  The only benefit that can be shown from stretching is that it makes you a good at stretching. Even in the case of flexibility there is no scientific proof that stretching actually makes you more flexible…but rather makes you more tolerant of the pain of pushing your muscles beyond a comfortable point. (Greater Flexibility is more Neurological than Physiological) The author even asks why anyone would want to be more flexible beyond the normal range of motion.  He points out that only gymnasts, ballerinas and martial artists need that level of flexibility and that this greater range of flexibility DOES NOT make them healthier.  The opposite is true.

So what does he recommend?

Well, for Warming Up…you simply start out your workout by doing a slower, toned down version of the exercise. For instance, if you are going to run, start out at a slow jog until your body warms up, then run. (you know your body is warmed up when you start sweating)  You do the same for a cool down…the same workout just slower and easier.  I do this with weight lifting.  I’ll start out with about 50% of what I intend to lift and just start lifting and build up from there.

Prevention of injury.  This has more to do with technique than anything.  If you are going beyond what is wise, or your skill level, you run a much higher risk of injury.  If you sit at a desk all week, then go run 10 miles on the weekend.  Odds are heavy that you are going to get injured.  In some studies, stretching before exercise was actually shown to increase your risk of injury because it pushes cold muscles too far too fast.  You are better off taking it a bit slower and working on technique of what you are doing.  Realize too that being active will increase your risk of injury…but that is the fact of life.  It’s also dang manly to get injured doing something super cool.

Prevention of Muscle Soreness.  To quote the author “Muscle soreness is the TAX for exercise.”  If you exercise, your muscles are going to be sore.  The more your body is accustomed to exercise, the more likely you are to not be sore.  Even massage is shown to NOT necessarily decrease muscle soreness.  Deep tissue massage will actually make you more sore in the long turn.  It feels good to massage sore muscles but it does not decrease how sore they will be.

Flexibility.  If you have a normal range of motion, why do you need to have more?  What is the need for it? How does greater flexibility make you a better athlete? If  you are doing exercises beyond the normal range of motion…you are just asking for injury…so why are you doing it?  The bottom line is that you really don’t need to be that flexible to be healthy or even a good athlete.

Performance Enhancement. Studies have proven that stretching before exercise actually reduces performance.  He cites a few of these in the article.  But the cold scientific fact is that stretching does nothing to enhance performance and in most cases actually makes it worse.

Some stretching does feel good and all of us will stretch when we first wake up…after sitting for a long time…etc.  We do it because it simply feels good and provides a bit of a energy boost by getting blood and oxygen to your muscles.  There is nothing wrong with that.  Even animals do that, but…

“You ever see a lion limber up before it takes down a gazelle?” Woody Harrelson in Zombieland

If you ask me, I believe that stretching before a workout is a complete waste of time, and is actually more harmful and dangerous than it is helpful.  I never stretch before exercise.  Why should I?  I’ve got better things to do with my time.