Stretching has been shown in some studies to prevent injuries or pain, or improve athletic performance. Based on this, gyms are filled with people stretching - often in tight, unhealthy ways that re-emphasize the rounded forward postures that caused the pain and injuries in the first place. Other studies cast doubt on benefits of stretching for injury reduction, or indicate that stretching reduces muscle tensile contraction. Based on that, there are athletes who say they won't stretch at all. This is where I wind up back in the lab for more years to find out where the discrepancies lie and what to do about them.
The problem seems to be how people stretch, then how they then go exercise and incur their injuries. Another key issue is how they go about their real life outside of the gym and their stretching routine.
For many, stretching means producing a greater range of motion for any given joint, and bending forward to touch the toes. Many of these same people don't have the flexibility to comfortably lie flat without a pillow under head or knees, or stand with their back against a wall with the back of their head touching the wall without craning their neck or lower back. Their back and shoulders are too rounded forward. Their hip is too tight in front. Tight chest, shoulders, and anterior hip contributes to round-shouldered, bent forward posture. The average person is often too tight to just stand up straight. Consequently, they stand, walk, and do all activities at joint angles that impinge, grind, rub, and stress. This is functional tightness.
It is not a mystery when populations don't become more flexible or prevent injuries through conventional stretching routines. The idea of stretching needs to be reframed as specific retraining to restore healthy length to your muscles, so that you no longer stand, sit, and move with strained unhealthful positioning.
Stretching needs reform.
Several posts have introduced how ingrained unhealthful stretching is in popular fitness. Start with the following, plus the links I put in each, to see how to retrain your muscles and brain to stretch in ways that restores and retrains healthy positioning, rather than distort it:
- Are You Making Your Exercise Unhealthy?
- Sitting Badly Isn't Magically Healthy by Calling It a Hamstring Stretch
- The Stretch You Need The Least.
For functional stretching, use these three stretches every day:
- Fixing Upper Back and Neck Pain
- Nice Neck Stretch
- Friday Fast Fitness - Better Shoulder and Triceps Stretch
For using healthful muscle length for movement and exercise: