Two recent studies have given new light to the reasons that we stretch and how the practice impacts your athletic performances. These studies both make a compelling argument to the fact that your high school gym coach was wrong about stretching and that it is not, as we all have thought, a necessary and helpful training tool before rigorous physical activity.
The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research and the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports both scientifically proved that pre-workout stretching can lessen strength, stability, and does not contribute to reducing the likelihood of injury. In other words, these studies showcase a compelling argument that pre-exercise stretching should be avoided and is counterproductive.
Why are Post-Exercise Workouts Tainted by Stretching?
The scientists were not completely confident in explaining why stretching hampers the performance of the body post-exercise. They suspect that stretching has a direct impact on how our muscles react in a way that they are supposed to; by loosening muscles and accompanying tendons. Stretching made the study subjects less able to store energy and maintain explosive levels or strength and power. This can be compared to the elasticity of a rubberband; the more it is used the less responsive force it has.
How the Studies Were Conducted
The Scandinavian Journal study was conducted by researchers at the University of Zagreb, Croatia who initially set out to question if “pre-exercise static stretching inhibits maximal muscular performance.” To test this researchers combed through hundreds of earlier experiments in which volunteers stretched and then engaged in physical activity that tested their muscular strength and power. For these study samples, the scientists only used data from previous studies whose participants used static stretching as an exclusive warm-up; negating any experiments that may have included other warm-up activity such as jogging.
Using the data from 104 past studies that met these criteria, the scientists then set out to determine how much stretching affected athletes. Surprisingly, the test groups taken from the past studies’ data revealed that static stretching negatively impacted strength in muscles by as much as 5.4 percent, with the reduction in strength declining even further for those participants who held their stretches for 90 seconds or more. Even those participants whose stretching were less than 45 seconds revealed stretched muscles that were generally not as strong.
The impact of stretching didn’t not stop with strength inhibition; it also made the subjects less powerful. Subjects that were engaged in more explosive exercises such as jumping, throwing a punch, performing a clean and jerk with weights, and even those looking to post a good first mile in a marathon were all negatively impacted by stretching first.
The data from the study published by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research also reached similar conclusions. In this study a group of young men (18-24 years) with moderate training reduced their ability to reach normal standard squatting weights by as much as 8.3 percent as a result of pre-workout stretching. These men also reported significant decreases in lower body stability with the plausible explanation that a more compliant muscle tendon altered or impaired neurologic function in the active muscles.
Conclusions on Stretching
Perhaps Goran Markovic, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Zagreb and the Croatian study’s senior author said it best: “We can now say for sure that static stretching alone is not recommended as an appropriate form of warm-up,” he said. “A warm-up should improve performance,” he mentioned, not impede it. Dr. Markovic added that dynamic warm-ups that involve moving the muscles that will be called upon in your workout are a better choice.
Daniel E. Lofaso is a health and fitness writer for Sweat New York, a Long Island gym.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. .
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