If you read yesterday’s post, you know that I’ve been stretching in an attempt to open my hips and improve the functionality of my squats. You also have heard me riff in the past and mock the practice of static stretching to increase flexibility.
I maintain my view that static stretching – that is, stretching and holding a position for several seconds – before workouts or athletic pursuits is not beneficial for maximum power and explosiveness. Several new studies are backing this up. From the New York Times:
The numbers, especially for competitive athletes, are sobering. According to their calculations, static stretching reduces strength in the stretched muscles by almost 5.5 percent, with the impact increasing in people who hold individual stretches for 90 seconds or more. While the effect is reduced somewhat when people’s stretches last less than 45 seconds, stretched muscles are, in general, substantially less strong…They also are less powerful, with power being a measure of the muscle’s ability to produce force during contractions… they determined that muscle power generally falls by about 2 percent after stretching.
And as a result, they found, explosive muscular performance also drops off significantly, by as much as 2.8 percent. That means that someone trying to burst from the starting blocks, blast out a ballistic first tennis serve, clean and jerk a laden barbell, block a basketball shot, or even tick off a fleet opening mile in a marathon will be ill served by stretching first. Their performance after warming up with stretching is likely to be worse than if they hadn’t warmed up at all.
A similar study determined that men were squatting 8.3% less weight after static stretching.
Our options aren’t limited to static stretching before engaging in athletic feats and tossing out the practice entirely, however. Static stretching can feel phenomenal and there are scientific reasons for it.
For three days straight, I’ve done three hip mobility stretches, each with holds. I’ve emerged feeling energized, alert and relaxed.
A stretch feels good because during the process the CNS (central nervous system) receives a “feel good” response from your muscles and sends the response to your brain. Stretching can also enhance the proprioceptors (neuro-muscular receptors that register stimuli) of one’s own body position and movement, making us more aware of our body and the coordination of it. It can also aid in the elimination of a knot or a trigger point.
A knot or a trigger point is a sustained contraction which prevents adequate amounts of nutrients and oxygen from traveling through the muscle. It can be caused by: a chronically irritated muscle spindle, inactivity, orthopedic procedures, and chronic dysfunctions of the musculoskeletal system. A slow stretch can increase oxygen and metabolism in the muscle spindle, allowing the muscle to relax, and decrease the severity of a trigger point.
Because I’m working on areas that are tight, loosening them up may not help my performance, but it will help to get them back into optimal condition.
I’ve also been doing some light stretching before bed. You’ve been following, so you know how we feel about optimizing for quality sleep to improve recovery and general well-being. It’s all part of the master plan. From inspiryr.com:
Developing a comfortable stretch routine before going to sleep will help you stay asleep, which equals more energy and a better following day.
Stretches that target key areas where we hold tension, like the shoulders, neck, hands, and chest, is a no-brainer for entering slumber relaxed. Also, since we use those legs of ours most of the day or find ourselves sitting in awkward positions, the leg and back muscles tend to become hypertonic or excessively tense.
When performed directly before a game or a workout, static stretching isn’t likely to help and may limit your success. I still prefer active warm-ups prior to my actual training session. However, this doesn’t deny that there are ample benefits to the practice when done at the right time.
I’m stubborn, and it took me a while to arrive at this place, but I’m glad I’m here.
Strong, flexible mind,