14 December 2012

Why Stretching Is Bad For You

Pulling on a muscle for a long time doesn't make it longer, doesn't make it more pliable, and doesn't improve athletic performance. There's lots of scientific literature that shows that stretching before exercise increases the risk of injury, but still there's a lot of emphasis on it in common fitness literature. It's similar to the demonization of saturated fats: once a meme gets firmly implanted in the culture, it's hard to eradicate it. 

I wanted to share this video from Evan Oscer on why conventional stretching is bad.  I think it's worth your time to watch:

Personally, I happen to do yoga as my means of integrating my muscles and nervous system. Yoga is mentioned in this video around the 23 minute mark in a positive light. A lot of people seem to think yoga is glorified stretching, but that's evidence of a bad yoga teacher (there are many, many bad yoga teachers out there). The physical side of yoga, the asana practice, is the integration of:
  1. Breath
  2. Stability
  3. Movement
Stability and breath are both important for reducing muscle apprehension throughout the movement.  Whenever your nervous system is unsure of whether it can support a load at the edge of your range of motion, the interaction between the muscle spindles and the Golgi organ in the tendons causes the muscle to spasm to protect itself. If you want to decrease muscle tightness and improve your range of motion, the thing to work on is improving the stability of the movement while breathing deeply and evenly, _not_ pulling on the muscle harder.The apprehensive reflex is inhibited when the body is convinced, by many repetitions, that the joint is still safe and stable even at the edge of the range of motion. This in turn allows us to be more athletic, more open, and improve our eccentric muscle control so that we can relax when muscle tension is deleterious.


VVilly said...

1) coach Poliquins (no idiot) take on it:

2) according to Adam Curtis, Yoga is just recycled European exercises from the era of physical culture http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/posts/bodybuilding_and_nation-buildi

[warning: Adam Curtis posts are really long, but worth it]

personal experience:
3) pnf stretching? My hams are chronic tight and that's all that seems to help.
4) I've had bad form, ie. squat, and the only solution was to stretch out over-tight muscles that kept me from proper form. I'm asking for injuries otherwise.

Glad to see you back blogging!
Physics and latest fitness info - excellent combo!

VVilly said...

Now watched the video and his followup video. This is good material. Like his attitude. I'll want to use this. Thanks

Robert McLeod said...

The Adam Curtis blog is interesting, although he goes off on far too many tangents that aren't germane to the discussion. I'm definitely not one of the conceited practitioners of yoga who claims it's 5000 years old and hence an immutable, perfect science. Yoga has a habit of ripping off the bandaid that covers spiritual practices and showing the whole world what the reality is (see the John Friend scandal this year). Bikram is an excellent example of that.

The asana (poses) part of the practice is quite recent, at least in the form of the Ashtanga and Iyeneger styles and their derivatives. There are, older, much simpler asana sets. If Krishnamacharya did something wrong, it was to falsify the lineage. Yoga's a science, and an incomplete one.

I see all sorts of mixing in physical culture as it evolves as a science, so I don't think there's anything wrong with yoga appropriating concepts from the outside world. For example, a lot of Russian gymnastic practices that Pavel Tsatsouline popularized were all borrowed from Eastern physical culture, including yoga.

I've had hamstring issues too, mostly from too much bicycling and not enough walking/running which lead to overly strong quads and overly weak hammies. I don't really have a problem with facilitated stretching (i.e. Pavel's 'forced relaxation'). It's when people go to the edge of their flexibility and then start pulling on the muscle that causes problems.

Robert McLeod said...

Poliquins' comment on the lack of correlation between static and dynamic flexibility is interesting. It makes a certain amount of sense give the various tissues and organelles that determine flexibility, but I'd like to see the citation.

Unknown said...

Good to see you back on the scene.I train for the Ironman when I'm not working at DMESupplygroup. I am training for my second this November. Because I run and bike so much my hammies are always super tight. I hate stretching. Great post thanks a lot.