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Should We Be Stretching To Reduce Muscle Stiffness?

We have been told, even as a young child, that we should stretch to help loosen up and reduce the muscle stiffness before a workout or a sporting event.

But is stretching something that we should be doing before a workout?

First, lets look at the different types of stretching.

The two most popular types of stretching are static stretching and dynamic stretching. And they need to be defined for the purpose of this article.

Static stretching is holding a lengthened muscle at an uncomfortable, but not painful, range of motion for a designated length of time. Typically, holding the stretch for 10-30 seconds at a time.

Dynamic stretching is taking a muscle or group of muscles to their end range of motion but not holding it. The muscle is in the lengthened state for a very short time, less than a second.

As research has been published there are questions whether one is better than the other either pre or post workout session or sporting event.

Should we be static stretching before a workout?

A study performed by Nelson et. al. looked at the acute effects of static stretching on sprint performance. In the study, they had no stretching, hamstring stretching, quad stretching, and stretching both hamstrings and quads.

The study found that any type of stretching had a negative effect on the sprinters performance compared to the non stretching group (1).

Now, this study was done on elite sprinters. For the average gym goer the small decrease in performance probably won’t make a significant impact on them. However, how often do you see someone who is going through a stretching routine for 20+ minutes before picking up any weight? This study for me says that the time people are wasting static stretching pre workout could better be served elsewhere.

An argument people will make about stretching before a workout is because they want to have less muscle stiffness.

Is this muscle stiffness a bad thing though?

Holding a stretch causes the muscle spindles, which are a protective measure that sense stretching of a muscle, to become less desensitized. When muscle spindles are stimulated they tell the muscle to contract so the muscle doesn’t tear.

When the muscle spindles are desensitized they lose some of that ability to contract.

It’s exactly like a rubber band. When a rubber band is stretched and held for a length of time, it loses its extensibility properties instead of snapping right back.

Our muscles do the same thing. We can use the quick stretch response at the bottom of a bench press to “sling shot” the weight back up. Stretching muscles decreases that “sling shot” capability.

So is dynamic stretching a better option pre workout?

When coming up with a warmup routine dynamic stretching has been shown to be more effective in improving performance.

A study done by Yamaguchi et. al. found that static stretching had a negative impact on leg extension power whereas dynamic stretching had a positive impact on leg extension power (2).

The other positives that dynamic stretching does is that it also increases heart rate, increases core body temperature, and revs up the central nervous system. Which are all important components that are needed for a warm up that static stretching does not do.

What was interesting was another study performed by Nelson et. al. found that dynamic stretching performed after static stretching actually brought the subjects back to baseline (3). So dynamic stretching can reverse the effects of static stretching.

But I’ve heard stretching helps reduce your risk of injury and decrease muscle soreness.

via GIPHY

A meta analysis by Herbert et. al. found that static stretching strongly suggests that there was no significant reduction in muscle soreness or a decrease in risk of injury (4).

So you’re saying that I don’t have to do any static stretching?

Static stretching has its time and place, but I don’t think it is something that needs done by very many people.

Static stretching has been shown to help increase a muscles range of motion. So stretching either first thing in the morning, unless you are an early gym goer, or the last thing before bed seems to be the most logical.

This allows those adaptations post stretching to come back to baseline when going into a workout.

For the average joe, I believe that our time can be better spent doing other things than static stretching, especially before going into workout.

If you have any questions or would like to work with me to help improve your health and fitness, consider working with me as a distance coaching client.

 

References:

  1. Nelson AG, Driscoll NM, Landin DK, Young MA, Schexnayder IC. Acute effects of passive muscle stretching on sprint performance. Journal of sports sciences. 2005 May 1;23(5):449-54.
  2. Yamaguchi T, Ishii K. Effects of static stretching for 30 seconds and dynamic stretching on leg extension power. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 2005 Aug 1;19(3):677-83.
  3. Nelson AG, Kokkonen J, Eldredge C, Cornwell A, Glickman‐Weiss E. Chronic stretching and running economy. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports. 2001 Oct 1;11(5):260-5.
  4. Herbert RD, Gabriel M. Effects of stretching before and after exercising on muscle soreness and risk of injury: systematic review. Bmj. 2002 Aug 31;325(7362):468.
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