March 10, 2009

To Stretch or not to Stretch– THAT is the Question

As far as I can remember, athletic coaches, gym teachers and my parents have always told me to stretch. I was very active growing up, playing basketball, soccer, baseball and swimming so I just thought this was the right thing to do.

Now that I work in the fitness industry and have taken classes addressing these questions (Muscle Activation Techniques™ (MAT) and Resistance Training Specialist), I have reconsidered my position on stretching. In The New York Times article, Stretching: The Truth, the author takes a look at stretching and proper warm-up techniques. Below is an excerpt from the article:

“You may feel as if you’re able to stretch farther after holding a stretch for 30 seconds,” stated Malachy McHugh, the director of research at the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “So you think you’ve increased that muscle’s readiness.” However, typically you’ve increased only your mental tolerance for the discomfort of the stretch. The muscle is actually weaker.

I’ve experimented with this in my office using MAT and the results are quite surprising.

For warming up, I recommend simulating the activity you’re about to do. For example, on the treadmill, start with a walk, move into a medium paced walk, a fast walk, a slow jog, medium jog, fast jog, slow run, medium run and finally a fast run.

With weights, I see a lot of folks stretch their chest muscles before bench pressing. They put their arm up against the wall. Although many people think stretching will relax their muscle and increase range of motion, it doesn’t make sense to relax the muscle right before contracting it. Next time you are bench pressing, try beginning with a light weight and gradually getting heavier.

Another thing to remember: jogging for 10 minutes doesn’t prepare you for the bench press; it prepares you to jog for another 10 minutes. Remember to simulate the activity you’re about to do.

Your thoughts?