Ian Greaves | Apr 2020
Stretching’s status in the fitness industry is impressive. We stretch with an almost religious fervour. We stretch to warm up, to cool down, and in every small rest in between sets. So, stretching must be really important right? Well, no. In actual fact, stretching is a complete waste of time for almost everyone.
Static stretching vs dynamic stretching
Let me first clarify exactly the kind of stretching I am talking about here. Not all stretching is equal, and some types of stretching are more useful than others.
The mode of stretching I have a problem with is the most commonplace type of stretching: static stretching.
Dynamic stretching has its place during a warm-up to help lubricate your joints before exercise and get you prepped for the session. I’ll leave dynamic stretching alone for now. (Note: any old warm-up designed to get your heart rate up will probably do just as good a job, if not better).
Why so much stretching?
It’s almost a dogma of the fitness industry that stretching, and flexibility, is good for you. Stretching is supposed to improve sports performance, reduce your risk of injury and reduce the effects of delayed-onset muscle soreness (you know, the inability to walk downstairs after having done a load of squats for the first time in ages).
Does it live up to the hype?
The fact of the matter is, stretching doesn’t do any of that:
- Stretching before exercise has not been shown to improve sports performance. On the contrary, studies have actually found that stretching before training will actually harm your performance. Here’s a quote from one study that looked at the long term effect of stretching in athletes: “Overall, the evidence suggests that increasing range of motion beyond function through stretching is not beneficial and can actually cause injury and decrease performance.”
- The idea that stretching can reduce your risk of injury has been shown, repeatedly, to be false. If you want to reduce your risk of injury, you’re much better off starting a strength training program than with stretching.
- The same goes for reducing the effect of delayed-onset muscle soreness. It just doesn’t work. Nothing does.
Is there any benefit to stretching?
Stretching IS definitely good for one thing: getting more flexible.
But that’s the point, I hear you cry! My clients want to be flexible, so they should stretch. Yes, but no. The studies linked to above all point to the fact that once you have the level of flexibility required to do your sport/training/daily activities, there’s really no need to go any further.
More importantly, if your clients need more flexibility for a particular sport, there are more efficient ways of getting flexible than mere static stretching.
One good thing to say about stretching?
It feels good! I get it.
It feels like we’re doing something good when we stretch. Particularly after a heavy training session when our muscles are feeling heavy and sore, it feels relaxing. Done right, by twinning stretching with deep breathing (somewhat akin to yoga) stretching can be meditative and quite therapeutic.
So, I’m not saying here to avoid stretching completely. I stretch most days because it feels nice and helps me to relax. And that might be the only good reason to stretch.
Ian Greaves is a Level 5 Injury Specialist with qualifications in Clinical Sports and Remedial Massage, Personal Training and Injury Rehabilitation.