Wednesday, September 1, 2010


another article sums up the latest professional spin on stretching. done on runners, many many runners, of all ages, some of whom were assigned a 5 mins stretching routine, others who were asked not to - it took two years to find enough who would not stretch - the study found that 16% of stretchers and 16% of non-stretchers got injured over the course of the study. thus, stretching's a wash.

but is it? they also found that 23% of former stretchers who stopped stretching for the study got injured. the researchers concluded that the change of training habits likely contributed to their injuries and warned that “sudden changes are probably not a good idea.” i hate to say 'duh' but there's more to this than meets the eye.

i've written before on the lack of benefits of stretching and the value of dynamic warm ups instead. and i stand by the research both professionally and personally, from experience. but i do want to clarify something here: stretching passively may indeed be necessary for those who have conditions or muscle imbalances that do contribute to injury, such as ITB syndromeor patellofemoral pain. i would also add that for many, static stretching is essential even compared to dynamic stretching. older adults, those with known pathologies, and those for whom balance may be an issue benefit from slow, long-held stretches. of course, a dynamic warm up of even light walking loosens up the intended muscles and gets blood flowing deeper into the tissue to be stretched, so don't forget that part PRIOR to your stretches. nonetheless, there is still merit here.

what makes this study interesting was the data on previous stretchers' injuries. what we did not hear, tho, is a breakdown of the nature of the injuries incurred. it is very possible that the non-stretchers suffered injuries that would indeed have been mitigated if not prevented had they stretched. it's also possible that the stretchers, feeling like they'd warmed up enough, went out too fast and furious and thus injured themselves for reasons totally different than those related to stretching. as such, we still do not know whether or not stretching is beneficial or possibly hurtful. though large-subject pool studies have shown no benefits, like this study, it's not unreasonable to think that stretchers get injured as much as non-stretchers, just with different types of injuries. therefore, stretchers may not need to stretch and non-stretchers need to stretch but we'll never know til a study looks at the nature of the injuries within each group. til then:


  1. if we aren't supposed to stretch, how does one improve flexibility? I.E., How can one touch his/her toes without pain?

  2. stretching is ok, but may not be useful in doing what people have long thought it would do right before exercise/activity. supposedly it would enhance performance - studies show it actually doesn't tho not to the degree some lay literature suggests; decrease injury risk - as this article attests, that, too, is questionable; and increase flexibility - the science of flexibility suggests that the minimal amount of stretching athletes do is likely not enough to actually increase flexibility but it may decrease resistance to stretch, allowing for greater range of motion for a brief period of time. flexibility, in this instance, is a long-term effect of chronic stretching, esp long slow static stretching. as such, since most athletes don't do that, they don't actually benefit from the stretching they do do. however, as i indicated, static stretches held for long periods of time on muscles that, for some reason or another are excessively tight (injury, posture, post-surgery) can indeed stretch and get more supple.

    so, to improve your flexibility, anon, do long duration, slow/static stretches of the muscles that are impairing fuller ranges of motion. but don't overstretch - that can hurt you now, and later.


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