The Home Stretch
Let me ask an honest question to all of you guys: How many of you stretch on a daily basis? Meaning before and/or after exercising every single time without fail? I will be the first to point out the elephant in the room and say STRETCHING IS NOT FUN. No matter what we stretch we’re always tight, it’s painful, and there are never any objective results we see when stretching. When we do bicep curls you can see your biceps getting bigger over time – positive reinforcement – so we keep doing it. But what positive reinforcement do we see when stretching? ALMONST NONE! SO WHY DOES EVERYONE HARP ON STRETCHING BEING SO IMPORTANT?! And when we do stretch, when are we supposed to? What are the benefits? In this blog I’ll help you understand everything to know about stretching.
So, when we talk about the basic stretching modality, everyone is usually doing what’s called a ‘static stretch.’ Bend over touch your toes and hold. This type of stretch is to improve range of motion and increase elasticity in that specific muscle. This method of stretching will ALSO help to decrease injury ONLY when performed post workout.
Here’s the caveat. The tendency for this stretch is to elongate the muscle-tendinous junction and decrease muscle stiffness which is shown to REDUCE strength and power production. If this stretch is done too many times, or held for too long before performance, YOU MAY BE MORE PRONE TO INJURY (Bradley et al, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 2007). Think about this like a rubber band. If you take a rubber band and maximally stretch it 1 to 3 times a day for a 30 second hold, that rubber band is MORE PRONE TO BREAKING than it was before. Similarly, if we elongate our muscles before performance, they will be more prone to ‘breaking’ or injury.
Now when we talk about the standard stretching regimen, it is important that we are stretching the CORRECT muscle. Our body is all about balance. It loves to be equal between front to back, top to bottom, and left to right. Often, we are stretching a muscle that DOES NOT need to be stretched. We think that the muscle needs to be stretched only because there is pain, or it ‘feels tight.’ When in fact the agonist muscle needs to be stretched. Let us take the common hamstring stretch, for example. Our hamstrings (antagonist) feel tight, so we bend over and touch our toes. This is most commonly seen in what we call ‘quad dominance.’ Our quadriceps tendons are tight, pulling the front part of our body forward (what is called an anterior pelvic tilt), in turn causing the hamstrings to be pulled taut - hence the tight feeling.
When stretching the following areas, be aware of what muscle needs to be stretched, and what needs to be strengthened. They are listed below in order of what usually needs to be strengthened (antagonist) and what needs to be stretched (agonist). They are as follows: the hamstrings and quads, the abdominals and low back, lower traps/rhomboids and pec muscles, and front neck muscles and upper traps.
But now the question is, how long are we supposed to hold the stretch? How many times a day? How long before we start seeing improvement in flexibility? A study conducted by Bandy, Irion, and Briggler concluded from a 6 week program, and 100 subjects, said that ‘stretching for 30 and 60 seconds one or three times per day for 5 days per week for 6 weeks was more effective for increasing muscle flexibility than no stretching. There was no difference between stretching one or three times per day using either a 30 or 60 second duration of stretching.’ So, at minimum, to improve range of motion, stretch at least 1 time a day, for a 30 second hold, for up to 6 weeks to see maximum improvement in range of motion.
So, what kind of stretching is good for before our exercise regimen? A study done by the journal of strength and conditioning research says that there really is no type of stretching that can be done before to increase production of performance. Nor did any type of stretching negate the production of performance.
When we look at the top-tier athletes, they use a ‘dynamic warmup’ which is most often used for pre-performance settings. Dynamic warm up is when the joints and muscles go through a full range of motion but are not held there for a very long time. This way there is no bouncing of the muscles (as seen in ballistic stretching), or a hold in the muscle (seen in static stretching.) Listed below are a couple example of dynamic warmup examples and are best performed with 10 reps each. Keep In mind, any joint and muscle can be taken through dynamic warmup.
1) High kicks
3) Lunge with a twist (twist towards the knee that is up)
4) Straight leg toe touch (one side at a time)
5) Piriformis dynamic stretch
So, in conclusion:
1) Be sure to stretch the correct AGONIST muscle. These muscles are generally the more power muscles in the balance system that needs to be stretched more times than not.
2) Perform static stretching AFTER performance. 1 to 3 times a day, for 30 second hold. This can help increase range of motion in the muscle, decrease muscle stiffness, and improve flexibility!
3) Perform dynamic warm up before performance. This can help the individual increase blood flow to the area, raise the core temperature and metabolic reaction, and improve joint range of motion WITHOUT stretching the muscle-tendinous junction.
As always, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out!
Thanks for reading,
Pratik Soni D.C.
ETS Health and Performance | www.etshealthperformance.com
Sports Training | Chiropractic | Rehab
1. William D Bandy, Jean M Irion, Michelle Briggler, The Effect of Time and Frequency of Static Stretching on Flexibility of the Hamstring Muscles, Physical Therapy, Volume 77, Issue 10, 1 October 1997, Pages 1090–1096, https://doi.org/10.1093/ptj/77.10.1090
2. Bradley et al. The Effect of Static, Ballistic, And Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation Stretching on Vertical Jump Performance. 2007
3. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: January 2009 - Volume 23 - Issue 1 - p 304-308doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181874d55