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Digging Deeper: Stretching
Stretching. T his little ten-letter word has the capability to cause chaos. Mention something about stretching and prepare to get behind Z eus’s shield because you’re in f or a f ull f ledged battle. “F$#@ stretching.” “Static stretch bef ore training and you’ll be as weak as a noodle.” “Only hold f or 20 seconds at most.” “Hold f or two minutes minimum.” “Only do dynamic stretching.” “PNF is where it’s at.” “Stretching prevents injuries and enhances perf ormance.” On and on it goes. It seems that everybody has a side, and the amount of inf ormation out there is huge. It’s easy to see how someone can get lost in the whole stretching debate. Let’s take an objective look at what we really know about stretching and try to bring a little clarity to the picture. Let’s dig a little deeper without any bias and see if we can unf old this topic a bit.

Types of stretching
Here are some of the basic, most popular varieties of stretching: Static: T his is when you take a muscle(s) to an outer range of motion and hold f or an extended period of time, usually between 15 and 60 seconds. Many studies in literature use static stretching. Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF): Commonly known as contract relax or hold relax methods, PNF is designed to take advantage of the body’s natural protective mechanisms such as reciprocal and autogenic inhibition. For example, let’s take a hamstring stretch. Lie on your back and have your partner hold your leg f or a typical hamstring stretch of 10–15 seconds. Next, contract your hamstring while your partner resists f or 5–10 seconds and then relax. T hrough autogenic inhibition, you should be able to go f urther into the next static stretch. You could also perf orm the initial 10- to 15second hamstring stretch and then bend your knee and contract your quads as your partner resists. Again, return to the static stretch and, through reciprocal inhibition, you should be able to go f urther. Dynamic: A dynamic stretch is when you take a muscle(s) through progressively larger ranges of motion at progressively higher velocities (i.e. leg swings). It’s synonymous with dynamic warm ups where you go through active ranges of motion such as lunges, inch worms, high knee runs, and other movements, gradually increasing the range of motion and speed but not holding positions statically. Myofascial release: Muscles are surrounded by a variety of connective tissues, a major one being f ascia. Fascia is a tough sheath of tissue that surrounds whole muscles and individual muscle f ibers and provides support and protection. Myof ascial release is an attempt to loosen and stretch these tissues to allow f or greater range of motion and f reedom to the muscles they surround.

It will resist a stretch but quickly return to its original state once the stretch is released. “Skeletal muscles are considered to be viscoelastic.What and why Viscoelasticity ref ers to the property of the muscle-tendon complex. the thought process is this—more f lexible muscles are able to go into f urther ranges. Overall. and tightness. . Elasticity is like a slinky. so this will increase perf ormance. When a muscle is subjected to a constant stress or stretch. soreness. the longer a muscle. Like solid materials. Taken directly f rom Weppler and Magnusson. like liquids. Yet. short-term increases in range of motion f rom stretching is mainly due to viscoelastic changes in the muscle. it will slowly elongate in what is known as viscoelastic creep. the more f orce it will be able to produce over a longer range of motion. they demonstrate elasticity by resuming their original length once tensile f orce is removed. If you tip a bottle of honey over. if you ask someone why they stretch. Also.” T hink of viscous like honey. they also behave viscously because their response to tensile f orce is rate and time dependent. here’s what most will say: Increased range of motion Injury prevention Enhanced perf ormance Reduced soreness Pleasant f eeling Now let’s take a closer look at each of these reasons f or stretching. the honey moves slowly to the stress. Due to this. T he idea behind stretching is that moving into an end range of motion and holding that position will increase the f lexibility of a muscle-tendon unit and in return increase the range of motion of the worked joints. Overall. T his is key f or reducing injury.

Anybody who has plopped into a stretch can tell you that he’s able to achieve an increased range of motion af ter the stretch than bef ore. duration of the stretch. this increase is transient and the gains quickly disappear. and age of the subjects. It can be tough to clarif y the results of these studies due to the dif f erences in activity type. Some studies have shown that f lexibility increases may only last between f ive minutes and one hour. Weppler and Magnusson did a review of stretching research and f ound evidence that seems to suggest that improvements f rom stretching routines come more f rom increased stretch tolerance than actual increased muscle lengthening. but these programs require multiple. make many of the results cloudy. Injury prevention T he ef f ects of stretching on injury prevention have been studied quite a bit and the results are varied. depending on the duration and intensity of the stretch. Dif f erences in type of activity. T he central nervous system is more tolerant to allow the body to relax into these deeper positions. so just as you become more tolerant to many external f actors in lif e. In other words. Unf ortunately. It does seem to be increased tolerance and natural genetics though. much of this initial increase is due to the viscoelastic properties of muscles. Some studies have even showed the potential f or an increased risk of injury f rom static stretching bef ore activity while a f ew have shown that static stretching slightly helped to prevent injury.Increased range of motion Stretching does increase short-term f lexibility and range of motion. Jackson either. but the exact mechanisms aren’t 100 percent known. Most outcomes f rom these studies tend to point toward static stretching having a neutral ef f ect. whether speed/power based or aerobic/endurance based. daily sessions over time to get long-term increases. the age of the subjects is worth noting due to dif f erent responses and states of muscle-tendon units in older versus younger populations. overall stretching won’t make you Bruce Willis f rom Unbreakable nor will it make you Samuel L. you become more tolerant to stretching. As mentioned above. the nervous system becomes more tolerant to the stretch. In addition. Dedicated. when you routinely stretch a muscle. . Such programs and protocols can be seen in gymnasts and dancers. Despite all this. daily stretching protocols do have an increased and more permanent ef f ect on f lexibility.

T hey f ound that both the 30. Others have recommended perf orming a dynamic warm up or sport-specif ic work af ter static stretching f or the best of both worlds. T hree groups—a 30-second stretch group. the designs and applications of these studies vary greatly and may not always be realistic to actual sport or competition. On the other hand. On that same note. Bradley and colleagues showed that both static and PNF stretching decreased perf ormance in the vertical jump. A study by Taylor and colleagues showed that the detrimental power and speed ef f ects seen in static stretching may be erased by perf orming a sport-specif ic warm up. A study perf ormed by Ogura and colleagues looked at stretch durations f or the maximum voluntary contraction (MVC). However. but only the 60-second group had a reduction in MVC. many have f ound that dynamic stretching and drills done alone may improve perf ormance and preparedness f or activity. . this decrease in perf ormance was f ully regained af ter just a 15-minute wait.Enhanced perf ormance Most people are aware of the multiple research studies showing that stretching bef ore exercise results in decreased power and speed of the subsequent exercise. a 60-second stretch group. An interesting study by Haddad and colleagues showed that static stretching may af f ect speed and power f or up to 24 hours. T he 30-second stretching group didn’t see any dif f erences with the control group in terms of MVC. and a control group—were tested f or f lexibility and MVC bef ore and af ter stretching protocols. Other studies have shown similar results—longer duration stretches have a more detrimental ef f ect on perf ormance. While much research does show a correlation between stretching and reduced perf ormance.and 60second stretching groups produced similar increases in range of motion.

doesn’t reduce soreness. Reduced soreness T he clearest aspect of static stretching is that it doesn’t reduce muscular soreness. A f avorite has been to stretch the hip f lexors bef ore a vertical jump or deadlif t to allow the glutes and hamstrings to take over the movement. but af ter looking deeper. and many dif f erent f actors such as time and technical work usually f ollow stretching bef ore actual perf ormance. not many modalities truly do help with DOMS. homeopathy. stretching. ultrasound. and they all come back the same—static stretching. we can all attest that the best way to improve DOMS is just time. While these things may help temporarily. “activation” exercises. We’ve all had DOMS and have used warm ups. In f act. research seems to suggest that static stretching produces a neutral to slightly negative ef f ect on subsequent exercise. T here have been plenty of studies and reviews done to research this aspect. To sum it up. I admit that I f irmly believed static stretching resulted in decreased perf ormance. in cases of extreme delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). and the duration until the actual exercise. T he thought behind this is that stretching the antagonist will temporarily increase f lexibility and relaxation and decrease the output of the antagonist. as their results showed an increase in vertical jump height af ter stretching the hip f lexors and dorsif lexors. T he point is that there are many dif f erences in these studies that make interpretation dif f icult. To come to the def ense of static stretching. and light exercise to reduce it. Again. Cheung and colleagues f ound that massage. which will allow the agonist to work through a greater range of motion with less resistance. cryotherapy. and electrical current modalities all had no overall ef f ect on improving DOMS. message. static stretching may actually increase soreness and recovery time. T his advice has been given f or a long time. this will be af f ected by a dynamic warm up. Many of the studies have an athlete perf orm a static stretch and then immediately pop up and perf orm a jump or sprint. but how realistic is this? Rarely in actual competition is this the case. . especially if the exercise requires maximal power and speed. many of these studies are just unrealistic to actual sport or exercise perf ormance. A study by Sandberg and colleagues showed that stretching did indeed live up to this advice. the duration of the stretch.Another interesting study looked at stretching the antagonist muscle to see if it would increase the ability of the agonist to produce f orce. whether perf ormed bef ore or af ter activity.

Breathing: One aspect of stretching that needs addressed is breathing. Still. I’ve concluded that if stretching bef ore a workout or f or short-term range of motion benef its you. Other studies suggest that a stretch as short as 10–15 seconds is suf f icient. 15– 45 seconds will do. . Static stretching has been shown to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Yoga. one of the reasons why I like to stretch is because it f eels good. which can be great f or f acilitating rest and recovery. the mental side of things can trump other aspects. but like many things in lif e. Improved breathing patterns such as increased diaphragmatic breathing and f ocusing on exhalation can trigger relaxation. Some research has shown that 30-second stretches are just as benef icial as 60-second stretches. ask others how to get a more long-term ef f ect and they’ll say that you need durations of 2–5 minutes while others suggest that to get actual tissue change and a more permanent ef f ect.Pleasant f eelings T his is an interesting aspect of stretching. if you’re looking f or a more long-term ef f ect and change. on the opposite spectrum. and calm the body down. Stretching can increase relaxation. Many people swear by stretching whether they actually receive benef its or not. Focusing on this type of breathing will increase parasympathetic nervous system activity. but 15-second stretches don’t measure up. and other such activities have long supported the role of breathing in stretching. longer holds of 2–5 minutes or longer work best. However. improve mood. which will help the body relax and increase the stretch tolerance. by all means continue. Heck. Other f actors Duration: T his is a very cloudy aspect of stretching with so many dif f erent recommendations. a period of 20–30 minutes is needed. Overall. T his might involve a placebo ef f ect and/or other mental aspects that benef it the individual. However. so it does have some actual benef its in that sense. Pilates. So if someone believes that stretching is benef iting them. this may contribute to reduced short-term perf ormance af ter stretching. I f inish and f eel a little bit better.

Stretching isn’t really a singular approach. I really like the approach that Kelly Starrett f rom MobilityWod takes—attacking many dif f erent components such as sof t tissue. Here’s a video by Dean Somerset giving you an idea of how this can work. Azevedo and colleagues showed that PNF stretching had no additional benef it over static stretching. In reality. rate of movement. joint manipulation. T here needs to be a variety of methods used to get a complete approach. . and movements that is thought to elicit the best changes and increase the quality of inf ormation being sent to muscles and joints. Personally. much of this depends on the context of what you’re trying to achieve. no one type of stretching is the absolute best. dynamic stretching may be more benef icial. I don’t think there is a “one size f its all” approach. positions. A major aspect of f ascia is that it’s highly proprioceptive. motor control. PNF and longer duration static stretches (2–5 minutes) may be superior. there are many components to improving f lexibility and range of motion. If you can’t control or stabilize in certain positions or through certain movements. Overall. and hydration all play important roles in a joint’s range of motion capabilities. Each has a time and place where it can be ef f ective. takes a lot of hard work to permanently change. joint position. I’ve heard others say that as much as 40 percent of range of motion potential is related to f ascia (don’t quote me on that. but research suggests that types of PNF stretching may be more benef icial than regular static stretching in terms of gaining range of motion. So regardless of our f oam rolling ef f orts. and PNF and doing something every day f or about 10–15 minutes to maintain your body. It’s a really complicated subject with many dif f erent opinions. But again. However. In f act. Many studies have shown that all types of stretching have positive benef its of acute range of motion gains. muscletendon unit.Type: T he type of stretching protocol perf ormed also plays a role in the ef f ectiveness. and pressure. It has been suggested that it takes six months to two years to elicit permanent changes while certain areas may not be able to change at all. author of Anatomy Trains and an expert on f ascia. has said that f oam rolling is best f or proprioception. Of ten times. certain parts may be a lost cause. Fascia. While f ascia gets a lot of publicity. to counter this. joint capsular. there are studies in support of and rejection of certain types of stretching eliciting a superior benef it. I couldn’t f ind a study to support this claim but have heard it multiple times). My thoughts T he biggest problem with the stretching debate is that there doesn’t seem to be any middle ground. It plays a huge role in the range of motion of a joint and muscle. For increased f lexibility. weakness. T he body’s main goal is to prevent injury and it will make compensations and restrict movement to protect itself . like stretching. there are ten times more sensory nerve endings in f ascia than muscle and they are constantly monitoring changes in tension. skin. and most are adamantly on one side or the other. a lack of range of motion seen in joints is just the body’s protective mechanism. other tissues/structures such as the joint capsule. Chaudhry and colleagues showed that f orces outside physiologic range may be needed to actually stress and def orm f ascia in certain parts of the body. Soft tissue: Fascia is a tough connective tissue that surrounds all muscle tissue and provides support and structure. Dif f erent types of stretching will provide dif f erent stimuli and invoke dif f erent results. bone structure. Motor control: Of ten lack of or loss of range of motion can be a result of instability. your body will protect itself and not allow you into those ranges of motion. T homas Myers. Geez! T his is getting hard! Like many of the previously discussed items. but f or perf ormance. or lack of motor control. It is this proprioception and variety of stresses.

nlm. so please comment and be open to everybody’s unique dif f erences.ncbi.nlm.gov/pubmed/9007768 http://www.gov/pubmed/?term=cheung+DOMS http://www.php?bec9 http://www.nih.anatomytrains. Others swear by stretching and think that it makes a huge dif f erence.ncbi.nlm.nlm.nih.ncbi.nih.nlm.gov/pubmed/20030776 .gov/pubmed/15730338 http://www.com/f ascialf itness/f ascialf itness. Ref erences http://www.nlm. and suck.ncbi.I also f eel that we need to have goals in place.gov/pubmed/17685679 http://www.gov/pubmed/21659901 http://www.usatf .nlm. or hang out somewhere in the middle? Do you static stretch bef ore working out.nih.gov/pubmed/18723456 http://www.nlm.nih. I f eel that stretching as well as other modalities can def initely help to achieve a better range of motion and position.nih.gov/pubmed/15782063 http://www.nih. Everybody f eels and responds dif f erently to stretching.nlm.ncbi.nlm. However.nih. Personally.nih.ncbi.nlm.ncbi.nih.ncbi.nih.gov/pubmed/19528850 http://www.ncbi.pdf http://www.ncbi.gov/pubmed/15233597 http://www.nlm.ncbi. So what are your thoughts on stretching. and sof t tissue work? Do you love it.org/stretchStudy/StretchStudyReport.ncbi.ncbi.ca/bibliography.nih.ncbi.nlm.gov/pubmed/22395281 http://www. and slow if I try to perf orm with any kind of power or speed af ter static stretching.gov/pubmed/22344065 http://www.gov/pubmed/15495679 http://www.nih.ncbi. maybe af ter.nih.nlm.gov/pubmed/23615481 http://www.nlm.nih. hate it.gov/pubmed/21802037 http://www. So who am I to tell them not to stretch because it may reduce their power output by f ive percent? You have to f ind what works f or you and your athletes.ncbi.nih.ncbi. I f eel lethargic.ncbi.gov/pubmed/16937953 http://www.ncbi. I don’t like to static stretch bef ore certain workouts because I f eel that it negatively ef f ects my perf ormance. get hurt.nlm.nlm. if I’m working with someone where the main goal isn’t perf ormance or if we’re perf orming more technical work.nih. lackadaisical.nih.gov/pubmed/21386723 http://www.gov/pubmed/18768355 http://www.gov/pubmed/16130528 http://www.nlm.nlm.nlm.nih.pdf http://saveyourself . Why are you looking to improve your range of motion? Is it so you can improve your squat and deadlif t mechanics and positions or are you just doing it f or the sake of doing it? T here needs to be a goal in place and an approach to attack specif ic needs.nih. mobility.gov/pubmed/18337359 http://www. or maybe not at all? I’d love to hear everybody’s thoughts on this ever complex topic. Some people stretch.ncbi.

nih.gov/pubmed/20075147 Related Articles Death of Static Stretching? EFS Classic: Flexibility/Mobility: An elitefts™ Roundtable Recovery 101: Training Techniques .ncbi.nlm.http://www.