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Is Stretching Necessary, by Matthew Romans

College and professional sports teams and individual world-class athletes are notorious for engaging in behavior that is both superstitious and nonsensical. Baseball players still use a weighted "donut" on their bat when swinging it in the on-deck circle prior to an at-bat. Basketball players often go through an extensive dribbling and ball handling routine prior to shooting free throws. For years, boxers and baseball players, in particular, were strongly discouraged from strength training. Boxing trainers (even the great Angelo Dundee, who trained Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard) thought that weight training made fighters "muscle-bound" and slowed their reflexes. Old-time baseball people thought weight training would compromise a batter's swing and ability to hit. Fortunately, this has been disproven, and we now know that nearly every collegiate and professional athlete performs some form of strength training (although, not with our safe and effective exercise protocol) in order to enhance their performance and protect against injury.

Although attitudes about weight training have changed, most athletes and fitness enthusiasts still engage in some form of stretching as part of their routines. Is stretching a safe and necessary part of exercise and preparing for the rigors of sport? Let's take a closer look.

The most common form of stretching performed is static stretching. This involves holding a challenging but comfortable position for a particular muscle for a given length of time, often for between ten and thirty seconds. There is also what is called ballistic stretching, which involves the use of momentum to move (bounce) a limb or body part beyond its normal range of motion. Finally, there is what is called Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) stretching, which is a more advanced form of stretching that involves both stretching and contraction of the targeted muscle group. During PNF stretching, the person will have a partner assist them by stretching the limb to a challenging position and hold it for a given length of time. The partner will then provide resistance while the person stretching actively pushes against it. Then the person stretching will be able to increase their range of motion and stretch that limb or body part further. This occurs because PNF stretching overrides the Golgi tendon organ, which is a proprioceptive sensory receptor organ that senses changes in muscle tension.

Now that we have an understanding of the different types of stretching, the question should be asked: is stretching, safe, effective, or necessary? In my opinion, no. Keep in mind that to this point, there has not been a properly conducted study that conclusively shows that stretching protects against or prevents injury. NFL football players stretch quite a bit before practices and games, yet hamstring pulls remain a very common injury. It's important to understand what happens during stretching. You're not only stretching your muscles, but you're also stretching connective tissue (tendons and ligaments). While muscles have elastic properties (the ability to change in length, like a rubber band), tendons and ligaments do not, since their primary function is to stabilize joints. Once a tendon or ligament is stretched, it does not return to its original length, thus it is put at greater risk for injury. Extreme amounts of flexibility are not necessary for performing normal life activities, and can be very dangerous. Many athletes that participate in sports and activities that involve extreme range of motion and flexibility, such as gymnastics and dance, have a greater risk for joint derangement, arthritis, and the necessity for joint replacement later in life. With this in mind, I believe that stretching in any form prior to a workout or athletic contest provides very little benefit and should be avoided (especially PNF stretching).

If stretching is unsafe and unnecessary, what should be done to warm up before a Total Results workout or before an athletic activity? In Super Slow-The Ultimate Exercise Protocol, Ken Hutchins discusses the three aspects of the warm-up, from a safety perspective. First, we want to fatigue the muscle safely enough to perform a maximum effort. Second, we strive for the lubrication of muscle bellies and tendinous sheaths so they can slide against neighboring structures. Lastly, we want to lubricate the joints with the release of synovial fluid from the synovial membranes and articular cartilage. A good example of this last point is how we often have clients perform the Leg Curl exercise just before they do the Leg Press. By performing a knee flexion exercise prior to a knee extension exercise, we ensure that the knee joint is properly lubricated and warmed up.

You do not need to perform a specific warm-up routine prior to a Total Results workout, since the first several repetitions of each exercise we do will serve as a much more thorough warm-up for your muscles and joints. You also do not need to stretch. While stretching can feel good, it is very easy to overdo it and put yourself in harm's way. In my opinion, stretching is a very overrated and romanticized component of fitness, and flexibility beyond normal daily activities is really unnecessary.

At Total Results, we are very conscious of having our clients work through a safe and pain-free range of motion on each exercise, which will safely enhance your flexibility. That being said, if you are preparing to participate in a sporting event or activity, you should perform some low level warm-up specific to the nature of the activity. If the sport is basketball, do a light jog and some moderate dribbling and shooting drills to get ready. If you're playing a round of golf, hit some easy shots off the driving range and do some putting. Regardless of which activity you pursue, it's important to stay hydrated, as dehydration can exponentially increase the risk of injury.

Hopefully this article explodes the myths about stretching. We want our clients to exercise safely and intelligently so they can get the most out of life. Our mission is your amazing. Let us show you the way!

Posted September 18, 2019 by Tim Rankin