I have never admitted this before, but I hate to stretch. It bores the heck out of me.
When I stretch, I always think to myself that I could be using this time to burn more calories doing HIIT. I have a limited time to workout, so I simply avoid stretching. I’m going to talk about a better and more efficient way to maintain flexibility and prevent injuries.
Oh yeah, in case you didn’t know, stretching before lifting makes your muscles weaker for that workout.
[Stretching before going for a run. A waste of time, or a smart way to avoid injuries?]
I Develop My Deep Hatred for Stretching in 7th Grade
I am going to talk about something that still upsets me! It revolved around a “physical fitness” test we used to have to take twice a year in Junior High.
If I remember correctly, we had to see how fast we could run the mile, how many situps we could do in 60 seconds, and a brutal stretch test.
[This is the evil test I am referring to! Kryptonite for tall guys like myself. In the 80’s I feared the Impending Nuclear War with USSR, Barbara Streisand, and This Test.]
A 13 Year Old 6’3″ Freak -vs- Junior High PE Teacher
Yes, I stopped growing at the age of 13. I was really good in sports back in those days, but wasn’t flexible at all. My PE teacher’s name was Mr. Tyler.
He was out of shape, probably around 50 and had bad onion breath most of the time. I used to argue with him that flexibility had nothing to do with athletic ability. I was an outstanding sprinter and long jumper (for a 13 year old anyway) but was getting my butt handed to me in the flexibility test.
He said that I would never be a good athlete if I didn’t work on flexibility. I disagreed with him back then and still disagree with him to this day.
Before I Rip Current Stretching Practices Apart…
Studies have shown that a limited amount of stretching can be beneficial. That being said, it is MUCH less than what many people think.
After doing quite a bit of research which for the most part proves my point that a lot of stretching is a waste of time…I did find a study that showed a benefit of a limited stretching schedule.
Here is the Irony about my stretching rant. I will probably add in a very small amount of stretching into my schedule after doing all of this research.
Does that make Mr Tyler right and make me wrong after all of these years? Nope!
Stretching As A Way to Prevent Injury?
Mr Tyler, like many Junior High PE teachers, really liked to insure we did a lot of stretching before any activity. Heck, he wanted us to stretch before playing ping-pong (I still love ping-pong, but without the 10 minute stretching sessions).
The rationale behind it was that it helped prevent muscle injuries. If we were going to run a mile and Mr Tyler was around, you could count on 20 minutes of stretching.
After 3 years of stretching, I improved very little in the flexibility department and more than anything felt like I was wasting a lot of time.
Kapooka Health Centre: A study in Australia tested 1500 recruits for a 12-week training program. Half of the recruits performed stretching exercises as a warmup. The other half did not stretch at all. Overall the group that stretched had an injury rate of 22% and the group that didn’t stretch was at 21%.
University of Sydney: A study examining several other stretching studies…”We can say with a high degree of confidence that stretching does not prevent muscle soreness,” says Herbert. “We can’t rule out that it reduces injury risk, but the weight of evidence is against it.”
Time to For The Technical Side of Stretching to Be Examined
Don’t worry, I will keep is simple to avoid “zone out”. I know that the Internet is a “skimming” medium, so I’ll stick to the major points. The first thing to talk about is the two types of flexibility.
1. Active Flexibility: This is the range of motion you have under muscular control. Swinging a bat, throwing a ball, a karate kick, etc.
2. Passive Flexibility: The ability to hold extended positions using the weight or your body or other outside force. An example would be touching your toes or doing the splits.
Improving Passive Flexibility Can Create a Flexibility “Deficit”
Typically doing stretches that improve passive flexibility, won’t improve active flexibility to the same extent. The difference between passive flexibility and active flexibility is called the “flexibility deficit”.
A large flexibility deficit can create a condition for injuries to be more likely to occur. So in some ways, many of the recommended stretches can create a risky imbalance.
Lifting With a Full Range of Motion Increases Flexibility
It has been shown that lifting under a full range of motion is the best way to increase your range of motion (active flexibility) while lifting. So when you are warming up with light weights, make sure you use a full range of motion to increase flexibility.
This makes logical sense, right? To increase your range of motion lift with a full range of motion.
Note: If you are doing partials and lockouts in a certain exercise to increase strength in that exercise, you may want to add a few sets right after this where you do a full range of motion.
Stretching Before Exercising Can Reduce Muscle Strength
There are several studies showing that muscle strength can drop by 5-30% after stretching.
Supposedly stretching the muscle inhibits it’s ability to contract. The crazy thing about all of these studies is that they can’t nail down precisely why strength and power decrease with static stretching.
They acknowledge that the muscle isn’t as stiff after stretching and “believe” that this makes the muscle less likely to create as much torque.
Here are a few studies for further reading:
Wayne State College Study: Showing that bicep strength decreased 5% in tested subjects after performing static stretches.
McMaster University Study: Showing that calf strength decreased by 30% after stretching the calf muscle. This same study also measured that calf strength was still quite a bit weaker 60 minutes after stretching.
The Proper Way to Warmup Before Lifting
Basically lift with light weights and complete the full range of motion for a few sets. I recommend that you mimic the speed and tempo of lifting heavy, but with lighter weights.
You don’t want to throw the weights up and down like a piston just because they are light. “Pretend” like the weights are heavy and move at that tempo, even if the weights feel extremely light. This is also a great way to increase your strength levels in a lift.
Here is a post I did on that subject: Lift Light Weights for Low Reps to Gain Strength and Muscle Definition
Stretching Without Wasting Time…for The “Haters”
Yes, I’m way too old to be using a word like “hater”. Forgive me…I was feeling crunk (don’t even know what that means)…back to the post, sorry! If you do want to increase your flexibility a bit, stretch after you exercise. Don’t click away just yet, it will just take a couple of minutes per day…
University of Central Arkansas: This is my favorite study of all. The found that doing one 30 second stretch per day in a muscle group increased flexibility slightly more than doing it 3 times a day for 60 seconds.
My Stretching Summary
- No need to do before training, it makes you weak
- Warmup involves doing a light version of the movement through a full range of motion
- If you need to increase flexibility, perform just one stretch for 30 seconds each day
Note: As always there will be exceptions to the rule.
Things like injury rehab and specialty sports like gymnastics require a different approach.