Ah stretching, my favorite subject. For many years I have argued with people about the “benefits” of stretching. “Why don’t you stretch?” “I never see you stretching” they would say.
I’ll keep this short and sweet. Like always; if any evidence arises that changes my view then you will hear about it here.
I’m talking about static stretches here, e.g. sticking your leg on a bench and leaning forward etc etc. Turns out it is not completely useless or in fact detrimental for most people as was previously believed. No, it’s just “almost” useless.
The consensus from latest research seems to indicate that it is unlikely to reduce your risk of injury. However it should be said that it is unlikely do you any real harm either.
Read the research papers here.
What it will do is increase elasticity in the muscle fibers and reduce your athletic performance and I’m sure you can appreciate that if you have 200kg on your back deep in a squat; the last thing you want is decreased performance.
There are obvious exceptions to be made to pre-exercise stretching i.e. when correcting tension imbalances so that you can even the playing-field. For example one calf muscle might be extremely tight and needs to be rolled, stretched and mobilized to increase flexion at the ankle joint.
Also, think about this. If you are a long distance runner who barely lifts his leg more than 45 degrees; do you really need to increase the ROM (range of movement) of your hamstrings to that of a 110m hurdler? I doubt it. ROM is relative to optimum level given the need chosen sport.
My favorite part - post exercise
There is no evidence that post-exercise stretching helps to reduce or prevent muscle pain (DOMS or delayed onset muscle soreness) after exercise.
In a 2011 review, Prof Herbert found that “muscle stretching, whether conducted before, after, or before and after exercise, does not produce clinically important reductions in delayed onset muscle soreness in healthy adults.”
Here is another more recent report from The National Strength and Conditioning Association indicating that contrary to popular belief, namely that stretching promotes blood-flow, post-exercise stretching actually reduces blood-flow to the muscles.
What should I do with this information?
I recommend this.
Think of it like this. Warming up prevents injury. Stretching does nothing.
Warm up the muscles with dynamic, self-limiting stretches specific to the exercise/s that are going to be carried out.
Use corrective stretches/techniques e.g. foam rolling to even the playing-field as identified by a qualified (and I mean qualified) fitness professional .
Initially you would be better performing a warm-down with some light cardio.
Stretch later on in the day or early the next to reduce the effects of adaptive shortening that often occurs with intense resistance training. It won’t help with soreness but it will keep you optimal.
“Research also supports the idea that the optimal duration and frequency for stretching may vary by muscle group.The long-term effects of stretching on range of motion show that after six weeks, those who stretch for 30 seconds per muscle each day increased their range of motion much more than those who stretched 15 seconds per muscle each day. No additional increase was seen in the group that stretched for 60 seconds. Another 6 week study conducted found that one hamstring stretch of 30 seconds each day produced the same results as three stretches of 30 seconds.These studies support the use of It thirty second stretches as part of general conditioning to improve range of motion.”
I am not anti-stretching. I am anti-time wasting. Stretching does play an essential role in overall development but only when it is applied correctly. For many people stretching is therapeutic, a time for reflection and re-focus which in itself can be beneficial. For me it just isn't beneficial enough to dedicate time to outside of corrective/maintenance work.
It's like yoga. There a far faster and easier ways to increase ROM that don't involve spending an hour in a hot sweaty room next to someone else's backside.