Stretching is a comfortable and reassuring ritual for many people, myself included. It’s simple, it feels good, and we believe — or hope — that it makes us better. But for many people, athletes and couch potatoes alike, stretching is also a bit of a drag: a duty that weighs on the conscience, one more thing to make time for, like cooking more of our meals, or using that dusty elliptical trainer.
Can all these people be barking up the wrong tree? They can and they are. Is their faith in the value of stretching misplaced? I’m afraid it is. This (large) article will make the scientific case against the typical stretching habit in detail, and question and consider many other common ideas about stretching.
I stretch almost every day: hamstrings, lumbar erector spinae, and especially the deep gluteals are my favourites. But I don’t believe the habit is doing much more for me than a daily back scratch. I am just as stiff and inflexible and full of “knots” as I have ever been. I play sports the same way — sometimes almost well! — with or without it. I still get just as sore, whether I stretch or not. And I am hardly the only person to notice that stretching may not be all it’s cracked up to be…
“In my experience runners who stretch are injured more often, and when they stop stretching, the injuries often go away.”
Why is it that many Kenyans don’t stretch? Why was legendary coach Arthur Lydiard not a fan of stretching? Why does Galloway say, “In my experience runners who stretch are injured more often, and when they stop stretching, the injuries often go away”?
— Bob Cooper, Runner’s World Magazine1
What a sensible article, and about time somebody exploded the stretching myth! I remember as a schoolboy in South Africa forty years ago always being told to run slowly to warm up for our various rugby, cricket, and soccer games — nobody ever told us to stretch, and over the past ten or so years I’ve been puzzled to see this come in as dogma. As a runner of marathons for years and a GP with injured patients, I’ve never been able to figure out how on earth stretching the heck out of muscles, ligaments, and nerves could (a) warm them up or (b) do the slightest bit of good, and have sometimes been given “the jaundiced eye” when I’ve suggested such to my patients.
— Peter Houghton, MD, Vancouver (reader feedback)
I am a soccer referee, and mostly by happy accident began substituting what you call “mobilizing” for various stretches prior to my matches, and I find this does an excellent job of stimulating the muscles, whereas after only stretching I still seem to be tight for the first several minutes. Then I read this article, which corroborates what I have found in practice!
— Carlos Di Stefano, soccer referee (reader feedback)