Tag Archives: stretching

An internet encounter with static stretching.

Yesterday, while I was browsing Facebook, I happened to click on a link that advertised the 30 best premium WordPress themes. Curious, I started to browse through the list, and I came upon one that I was curious about: “spartan,” which has a nice internet-mag style layout.

As I looked at the live preview—nothing fancy; just catchy headlines, stock images and lipsum text—I scrolled down and saw that one of the example articles had a headline that read: “Don’t forget to stretch after your workout!”

Continue reading An internet encounter with static stretching.

Deconstructing “flexibility.”

Throughout our lives, most of us have heard that it is extremely important for us to be “flexible,” for a variety of reasons. Off the top of my head, I’ve been told that flexibility is important to make movement easier, so that my joints don’t deteriorate, and so that I don’t get hurt lifting heavy objects. This is excellent advice. But the problem is that basically all of us go about achieving greater flexibility in exactly the wrong way: by stretching, or more specifically, static stretching. And that is because we don’t understand the concept of flexibility in a mechanically useful way.

One of the main physiological problems of westernized people is poor biomechanics—a phemonemon that basically boils down to the idea that the muscles across our bodies are badly synchronized. Simply stated, they don’t know how to work well together, and when they are subjected to trying circumstances (such as exercise or age), the mechanisms freeze up and become damaged.

For some non-athletes, stretching may help initially. In a very low-risk environment, stretching helps these frozen mechanisms because it increases the net joint range of motion (ROM). This means that the joint can go just a little more before it gets hurt. But that doesn’t solve the problem: the muscles haven’t become synchronized; we’ve only ameliorated the symptoms because we’ve created ROM by isolating the muscles (due to stretchier tendons and weaker muscles), instead of developing their synchronization.

This is a classic case of a systems management problem called “shifting the burden.” We have a perceived need to increase flexibility (because of a particular set of assumptions), and we shift the burden of flexibility away from synchronization and towards isolation. When the symptoms ameliorate, we think that the problem is solved, and we subject it to higher-risk circumstances, such as sports. Soon, we find ourselves caught in an unending roller-coaster of injury.

We can solve this problem. But in order to do so, we must deconstruct our notions of “flexibility.”

Continue reading Deconstructing “flexibility.”

The beginning of a conversation on stretching

Here I share a few excerpts from The Big Book of Health and Fitness, by renowned researcher and clinician Phil Maffetone. (The chapter is titled “The hidden dangers of stretching”):

“It’s astounding that such huge numbers of people, young and old, athletes and those out of shape, have bought into the notion that stretching is a good idea. This view is widely held despite little, if any, scientific information demonstrating that static stretching is beneficial for most individuals, especially in the way it’s usually done. As a matter of fact, there’s quite a bit of evidence showing that stretching is harmful.”

“Clinicians who evaluated muscle function in athletes observed one outstanding factor: Stretching a muscle could make it longer, the reason it increases flexibility—and this resulted in a reduction in the muscle’s function due to a loss of power. In other words, stretching caused abnormal inhibition—a neurological name referring to a less-efficient longer moving muscle.”

“Most ligament, joint, and other physical ailments are usually secondary to muscle imbalance, which consists of a tight muscle and a loose one—you usually feel the tight one as tension or pain while its cause is a weak muscle. Treatment of these problems must be directed at the cause—the weakness—not the tightness.”

Stretching is an example of shifting the burden. Answer in the comments if you can figure out why.

Also, I’d like to hear what you have to say about stretching: why do you like it? why do you dislike it?

The conversation about stretching will be a recurring theme here on this blog; settling this issue and continuing on to train in the right way is, in my opinion, one of the most important changes we can make to the “typical” training routine.

AN IMPORTANT CAVEAT: The do’s and don’ts of correct stretching for typical athletes do not apply for the people who need an increased range of motion (RoM), such as dancers, gymnasts and martial artists. That said, the commonly-held ones don’t apply either.

UPDATE: In future posts, I’ll be discussing the issue of stretching in a very detailed manner. There are certain strength exercises that aggressively increase RoM—especially hip RoM—but I’ll get into those once I’ve posted about the biomechanic details of stretching (and of how to develop “real” RoM).

Given the excerpts I shared above, it’s extremely important that we approach stretching from an deeply informed perspective. Actually, it’s not just important. It’s critical that we do so, for the sake of our musculoskeletal system.