The new stretch debate + video

Hi friends! Happy Monday! Hope you’re having a lovely morning so far <3

Have you ever felt that everything you’ve known was taken away from you? I have… a few times, actually. Here are just a few examples on the long list:

Exhibit A: I found out an acquaintance was from AUSTRIA… not Australia (“Did you see lots of kangaroos?”… oh, I felt like a jacka$$), Exhibit B: with a baby, sleep begets sleep (so trying to keep them awake to sleep longer will fail you in all ways possible), and fairly recently, with stretching. 

Stretch

The benefits of stretching have been preached to me since childhood. Before and after soccer practice, we stretched. Before and after dance classes, we stretched. In yoga, we stretch and stretch. As a trainer, I’d been taught different methods and types of stretching to use with my clients. Then, I find out that the strategies and methods I’ve used with stretching could be inefficient. It’s a complicated subject, so there isn’t a clear answer (and there can’t be), but for the most part, here are the results of some studies:

-Stretching before exercise does not reduce the risk of injury (source). “First, in animals, immobilization or heating-induced increases in muscle compliance cause tissues to rupture more easily. Second, stretching before exercise should have no effect for activities in which excessive muscle length is not an issue (e.g., jogging). Third, stretching won’t affect muscle compliance during eccentric activity, when most strains are believed to occur. Fourth, stretching can produce damage at the cytoskeleton level. Fifth, stretching appears to mask muscle pain in humans.”

The increase in range of motion as a result of stretching is temporary (source).

-Stretching does not reduce muscle soreness (source). 

So why do people keep stretching, even though research proves it may not be necessary?

Habit. It’s hard to break a habit or change something that’s been ingrained in your mind for as long as you’ve known. I think many people feel guilt from not stretching enough, so it’s a bit of a relief to learn that you don’t have to stretch. 

Foam roller  1 of 1

My thoughts:

I found it interesting that stretching is not proven to reduce injury, however, I believe that by maintaining full range of motion, it prevents compensation. If you are unable to efficiently move a joint through its full range of motion, other muscles kick in to fill in the gap, which leads to synergistic dominance, altered movement patterns and thus, injury. However, I think the most important thing is to keep your muscles STRONG. If your muscles are strong enough to perform functional and everyday movements, you will be less likely to compensate. This is reason 14,028,616 why we all need to strength train.

While the increase in range of motion is temporary, I’ve seen the difference in squats before and after foam rolling calves. If you can maintain full range of motion and get in a better squat (lunge, whatever exercise you’re performing), it’s making your workout more effective. I’ll continue to foam roll before strength workouts, as I’ve seen a difference in my abilities during the workouts. Even though the extra range of motion is short term, it’s happening when it counts. 

Why I’ll continue to stretch:

It feels GOOD. If you like to stretch and you find that it energizes you or gives you a better workout, by all means, go for it! It’s nice to know that it’s not necessary, especially when you’re pressed for time at the gym. Warm up with some light to moderate cardio and you’re good to go! 

I find that a short stretch centers me, and forces me to take deep breaths. It’s an excellent form of relaxation, especially at the end of a long day, or during a hectic time of year. If you decide to keep stretching in your routine, you should do it because you want to, and perform the stretches safely, never taking it past the point of mild discomfort to pain. 

Here’s a little video that Sasha and I put together, including many of my favorite stretches. Give it a whirl before bed, and let me know how you like it <3 Hopefully it will help to energize and center you for the rest of your day, too.

 

Where do you fall on the stretch debate? Any exercise physiologists that want to chime in? Do you think stretching feels good, or would you be happy to skip it? Do you notice a difference when you stretch, or not so much?

I’m excited to hear your thoughts!

Hope you have a wonderful day and I’ll see ya later with a 10 Days of Giveaways giveaway. 

xoxo

Gina

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Comments

  1. I’m definitely not a doctor but I do find that I am much less sore if I stretch after a hard workout! I always regret (through muscle soreness later that day or the next day) forgetting to stretch on those times when I’m trying to get a workout in when I’m short on time. I’ll continue to do it! πŸ™‚

  2. Was there any research on stretching after exercise? I heard stretching before exercise wasn’t necessary but that it was still good to do so afterwards. I’m curious if that’s true.

  3. I’ve seen some of this research before, but I also study animal behavior and know that all other animals stretch (think – Down Dog or Up Dog poses in yoga….they come from seeing DOGS stretch).
    My opinion is that stretching may not have any benefits related to exercise (who knows – jury is still out), but that doesn’t mean stretching isn’t beneficial. If it were totally unnecessary or were “bad” for us, then other animals wouldn’t be doing it all the time (daily!) So there HAVE to be some sort of benefits from it….we just may not know what they are yet. Maybe they relate to exercise, maybe not. But that doesn’t mean stretching isn’t good for us!

  4. I usually do not stretch after working out…I should and it feels good to do so but I rarely do it for whatever reason. Maybe this week I will make it more of a priority πŸ™‚

  5. I have heard this before, but since stretching feels good on sore muscles, I’ll continue to do it. It’s not always a part of my routine, but it definitely feels good on a muscle I’ve just worked hard (love pigeon after working my booty!).

  6. So, I understand and believe you when you say increased range of motion is temporary but then I look at dancers who stretch every single day and their range of motion is incredible. Is it possible that with long-term, consistent stretching you will have a greater range of motion? Also, stretching does impact your flexibility and it is important to me to be flexible. Also, I really do feel better when I stretch out my sore muscles. I guess I am having a hard time with the rug being pulled out from me too!

  7. I have been running this through my head to. I do crossfit and home yoga mainly. And at my crossfit box I am the only person that does an additional warm up and cool down. I have tried not doing it and frankly I do not feel as good. Sometimes its more about how you feel then science but for those who hate stretching this is a great excuse not too!

  8. Your thoughts on the subject all sound valid to me! I remember in high school cross country, a couple girls came back from a summer running camp and told us that they had learned to ‘chew the gum before you stretch it’ — i.e., you’re supposed to warm up your muscles with light cardio before stretching. At the time, it sort of blew our minds. I now stretch only a little before workouts, if I feel tight in certain places, and I stretch after more as a way to cool down. But this also explains why I was a dancer for ten years and can stretch as much as I want but have never been able to do a split.

  9. Recently I’ve had terrible back and hip pain and the only relief I get is from stretching really thoroughly and foam rolling. The foam roller has actually changed my life and helped significantly decrease my pain. I don’t think I could stop stretching!

  10. I have to admit that I don’t usually stretch before working out (read: never) but I always make sure to get in a good stretch after I do a workout – especially a run. I find that this makes a big difference for me in terms of recovery, so I will continue to do so despite the stretching controversy πŸ˜‰

  11. I regularly took spinning classes from an amazing and knowledgeable instructor during college and she always said stretching before class was ineffective.

    Like point #1 says in your first paragraph, it’s actually more likely to cause tissue to rupture and, like point #2 says, isn’t necessary in activities like spinning.

    We always stretched after class, however. Why? Because it felt good! And in my experience is helpful for preventing soreness if done right after exercise when your muscles are warm.

  12. I almost never stretch before a workout or run – I do some dynamic drills before a race though!

  13. Nay for stretching before a workout. Yay to foam rolling.

    I will stretch after a heavy leg day lifting session. Deadlifting and then going to bed means needing a wheelchair the next day.

  14. I am a major fan of stretching. Even if it doesn’t directly keep you from injury, I strongly believe it negates compensation that WILL cause injury. Plus, it just feels really good.

  15. The only time I stretch before a work out is when I plan on doing moves like an over head press – where I’m using my shoulders to lift weights up. I think I have some irrational underlying fear of a shoulder tear or frozen shoulder (go figure why).

    When I used to run 4-5 miles daily, I would never stretch. Maaayybee if I remembered to lean over and touch my toes it would happen, but I would pretty much run indoors and straight to take a shower.

    I pretty much agree with the comments here – I would still stretch because it feels good (looking at you, yoga) and not necessarily as a way to end my work out. If it feels good, do it πŸ™‚

  16. I defiantly feel better in general when I stretch! It keeps my joints loose.

  17. Amy Graham says:

    Not be a pain but the study you’ve referenced is from 1999! Is there any more recent research on this subject? I did see that stretching isn’t potentially as good for you as previously thought in the news, but I’m curious about what the new research actually says.

  18. I’m a physical therapist, and yoga teacher, and all stretching is not created equal! I definitely agree with all your support of stretching here, and the only thing I would add is that dynamic stretching (ballistic, PNF, etc) does have support in the literature! From just a clinical perspective, I find dynamic stretches to be great!

  19. I definitely agree that stretching is important for flexibility. If you can’t reach full range of motion in your exercises you are risking an injury. I do find, however, that stretching prevents me from getting really sore the next day. It may not eliminate soreness after the onset but if I routinely stretch after working out, I definitely notice a difference vs. when I skip my stretch.

  20. I honestly hate stretching before a workout, and I usually don’t. But, as a former dancer, I really think that stretching after exercise helps to keep muscles lean and limber. When I started running, I lost so much flexibility in my hamstrings, but I’ve found that stretching/yoga has really helped to loosen my hips flexors and hamstrings, and it makes me a stronger, more agile runner.

  21. I always do dynamic stretching before a run, but not before any other cardio. I always stretch after a hard workout. Sometimes a skip it, but I usually am paying for it the next day.

  22. I’m actually training right now to be a yoga instructor, and I’ve been really into fitness my entire life. I personally LOVE stretching. It cools me down after an awesome workout, helps me connect to my breath, and it simply feels good. Personally, when I’ve done nothing but working out (weights and cardio), I still felt great, but I would wake up stiff and sore and it would take me a while to get warmed up to the point of feeling good in my body. Now that I’ve incorporated a daily yoga practice (anywhere from 10 minutes – 90 minutes daily), I wake up loose and free to take on the world. So, for me, stretching helps give me energy and makes my body feel light and spacious. πŸ™‚

  23. Thanks so much for that video, it was exactly what I needed today. I certainly do not take enough time to just stretch, and when I do I am always happier mentally and feel better physically after.

  24. I have to say, I’ve had this debate more than a few times! For me, stretching seems to help a lot with feeling warmed up and ready to go. It also seems to help in reducing injury and soreness. Foam rolling may also have the same effect, but sometimes I prefer a nice stretching routine to the pain of the foam roller πŸ˜‰ It just feels better sometimes.

    Anyway, here’s a story of why I think stretching works for me. I ran track in college, and the big hype was all about a functional warm-up (read plyo and sprint drills). So we started out each practice with these drills and then went right into the workout. Afterwards, we did static stretching. A few weeks in, I started to develop knee pain. I had never had any problems with my knees before, and I thought maybe it was just the new sprinting workouts or lifting (lots of squats, lunges, etc.). It got to the point that I started going in to the training room for treatment every morning. I did strengthening exercises, got e-stem, and rolled out on the foam roller. It helped a bit, but I still had to wear one of those strap bands below my kneecap. It felt like my knee was “off-track” and like something was rolling over the kneecap at times. Then, I decided to try static stretching BEFORE working out, as I had always done in prior years of track and through 13 years of gymnastics. After about 3-4 days of stretching BEFORE, the pain was gone. I didn’t need the band anymore, and I didn’t have to go to the training room in the mornings. It was like magic.

    Now, I don’t know why it stopped or if there were other factors, but all I know is that it worked for me and continued to work throughout my years of track and into my current exercise regimen. I try to stretch before and after every workout (at least a little), and I also stretch every night before going to bed for about 5 mins. Stretching at night seems to really calm my body and relax me and makes me feel less sore in the morning if I worked out the night before. Maybe because I was in gymnastics for so long and am more flexible than the average person, I need static stretching to really get warmed up and stretched (maybe you are like this, too, as a dancer?) I don’t know the science behind it, but I just know it works for me! πŸ˜‰

  25. I don’t feel the need to stretch before a workout, but I like to after — it’s a nice way to ease out of workout mode, you know?

  26. Interestinggg. I have read before that it’s not necessary to stretch before a workout, so I sometimes skip that but I alwayssss stretch afterward (I’m also trying to foam roll on a regular basis afterward as well). It feels good and gives my muscles a moment to relax.

  27. I HAVE heard that stretching before exercise is unnecessary, but never that it DOESN’t reduce muscle soreness! I can’t believe that. I notice such a big difference two days after a tough workout/run when I do stretch than when I don’t. Maybe it’s mental, but I’m going to stick with it. I love stretching…and yoga πŸ™‚

  28. I love how stretching feels! I definitely agree with you that it makes me concentrate for a few moments on my breathing and just collect myself. I have heard that it’s bad to stretch before working out on “cold muscles” so I rarely stretch before a workout. I do enjoy stretching after a workout as a nice cool down, though!

  29. I typically will do dynamic stretches BEFORE working out or running to help loosen up my legs and muscles then after I finish that I will do my workout and really stretch and foam roll after. That has seemed to always work for me!

  30. I’ve been bad about making time to stretch for several years now. since I moved my workouts to home. i used to be really flexible and I’m sure I could get there again if i put the time into it. but that also has to do with having 3 little ones and just fitting in the time to workout. but I just completed your frost workout that you posted last week. so I’m pretty proud of myself. πŸ™‚ it was awful in the best way possible.

  31. I stretch everyday. For 15 minutes. Usually after my workouts. Never right before. I would never stop, flexibility is so important, I don’t believe that stretching isn’t beneficial.

  32. I’m not a big before-exercise stretcher, but after any cardio workouts I’m usually good about stretching and/or foam-rolling at least a bit. It’s more because I know it will help me with my knee/hip issues than for the love of stretching, but I DO love the feeling of a good stretch…and I, for one, feel much more flexible when I stretch regularly than when I skip it! Will definitely be trying your stretch video tonight when I’m unwinding before bed. πŸ™‚

  33. I stretched for years as a child before gymnastics practice, so I totally know how you feel. And there is nothing like a good long yoga sesh to make you feel “oh so good”, but I also I can see both sides of things. I do not notice any different when I stretch before running, or strength training, and the only reason I do sometimes is more for warm-up purposes.
    But as you say, to each his own. We all know our bodies best and what they need, I believe this whole heartedly and will continue to pursue my fitness in the way I see best for me.

  34. LEt me tell you something… The other day I did a KILLER oblique/muffin top work out. The next day I could barely walk. It was awful. I did a little bit a shake out run that night at the gym and then made sure to have a date with my foam roller. I was seriously in tears from how sore I was, but guess what? The next day it was like I never did that killer work out- no pain at all! Stretching may not work, but a good foam roll will!!!

  35. I totally agree with you! Stretching feels good! It also helps me emotionally work out. I am a yoga fanatic, so I’ll continue to stretch and stretch with Tara Stiles, Erin Motz, and Kino McGregor every. single. day. I will admit I do not really stretch before doing just cardio. :/ I just warm up.

  36. I tend to be hesitant about recent research. Just one study or a few does not always mean it is true ( to me.) Many studies in the news are a correlation and not causation, and so they do not take certain factors into account. Even if all the research eventually states that stretching is not beneficial, I think most people can see the benefits. Especially myself as a former dancer. Just my two cents.

  37. so interesting! I still love me some stretching!!

  38. Oh man, I totally know how you feel. I remember being like wait, what? When people started talking about how static stretching pre-workout was pointless. After a lifetime of dance classes my brain could not handle this.
    I’m a fan of more “dynamic stretches” when I’m working out on my own or with a PT client, things like walking out into a plank and walking back up, going from a plank to a deep lunge to open up the hips. As far as cool-down stretching goes I like doing moves that flow together and really get that heart rate down and recenter you after a sweaty workout.

  39. I’m going to chime in on this one as a PT! First, it is important to make the distinction between stretching before exercise, and warming up. Warming up is important to prepare the body for exercise. A warm up should include taking the body through the joint range of motion that the body will be using for the exercise. For some people, this may not include much! For others, such as any sport or activity that requires flexibility, this may include more advanced exercises such as back bends and splits. For example, I have done some work on aerial silks, and I would not attempt to put myself into a position in the air that my body has not warmed up on the ground! The key is range of motion. Gina, you made an awesome point about having enough movement to prevent compensatory strategies.

    I would hesitate to call stretching “unnecessary”. If someone has ENOUGH range of motion and muscle flexibility, they don’t particularly need to stretch those muscles. However, this is a blog that encourages fitness, and muscle strengthening in and of itself will shorten muscles. Over time, without any range of motion or stretching, you may no longer have enough movement.

    As far as stretching not increasing flexibility, that’s a tough one. There are so many factors that play into flexibility. For example, if someone cannot stand and touch their toes, they may not actually have tight hamstrings, but a tight low back! Stretching the hamstrings will not solve the problem or increase the ability to touch one’s toes.

    Sorry for the length reply, and feel free to comment!

  40. The only time I stretch is before yoga, and that’s just because it’s part of class- I’ve never done it on my own before running or cycling and have been just fine. That being said, I think stretching is a nice psychological bridge between what you’ve been doing all day and a work out.

  41. Shaina Anderson says:

    I feel pretty strongly that traditional stretching before exercising does nothing for me. Dynamic stretching – yes, but trying to stretch out cold quads is silly. Its better to do some light plyo (jumping jacks, bodyweight squats, etc) to get the blood flowing. I like to do static stretching after a good workout because I like to take advantage of muscle memory while my muscles are warm and keep them loose. Yes its only temporary, but if I’m consistent with it, I notice a difference. That being said, do I feel way worse a few days later if I don’t stretch? No, and thank God because I can’t tell you how many times a certain baby has woken up juuuust as I’m finishing lifting haha. Foam rolling though – that’s where the money is. I have to get those knots out.

  42. I really like the videos but I find that it’s really hard to hear you guys with all the echo in the studios!

  43. I LOVE stretching. I always stretch after a workout, after every workout and I do Yoga 2-3 times a week. It feels so good and gives me that light feeling. I can definitely feel that my muscles recover much better and especially my posture is better since I do it regularly. I tend to fall inwards with my shoulders if I don’t do enough back bends daily.

  44. Thanks for sharing the stretching video! Loved it! I did the video this morning before I go workout! πŸ™‚

  45. Hi Gina,

    I wouldn’t let these few studies totally take away everything you know. The first one, the review, seems to have mixed results, with four studies showing benefits, 5 neutral and 3 showing increased injury. The other two are only results of one study, which is never conclusive. I think what you’ve read shows that there is still debate around the benefits of stretching, but it’s by no means conclusive if and under what conditions stretching helps.

    In the nutrition world there’s been more and more focus on the idea that the best diet might be
    different for different people. I wonder if here it’s the same case?

    Another possibility is that stretching helps with some types of injuries but not others. A friend of mine, who is not at all flexible, gets lots of muscle injuries. I’m quite flexible and get more joint injuries. Perhaps the benefits depend on your unique physiology and what activities you are doing.

    I like your comments about particular cases where stretching may be helpful. Maybe the clinicians should look into those!

  46. I love GREAT STRETCH VIDEOs OR STRETCH ROUTINE EXERCISES. I ,like you, feel like it is as much mental as it is physical. It forces me to breathe more deeply and center my mind and for once focus on just the movement. .”focusing on one thing at at a time” especially during stressful times or times where I just need to re-focus…a great stretch does a body good. especially after a nice long run!

  47. Thank you for this stretch video!! I LOVE it! It’s the perfect length to squeeze in before bed and your voice is very relaxing. With the holidays and cold weather i feel tense and I have done this video a few times to unwind and stretch before bed and love it and would like any more you come up with πŸ™‚

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