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Stretching: waste of time or worthwhile?

Head into an old regular gym, and you’re bound to see a bunch of people rolling around on foam rollers or balls, or doing some static stretching as part of their warm up.

Why? Many people claim that these techniques can reduce pain and muscle tightness and improve mobility and range.

They might be correct, but I have a question for you:

Is this actually having a long term effect, and if it’s not, what’s the point?

At this point, I might have a few people up in arms (I’m looking at you, yoga fans). So let me first clarify.

When I say ‘stretching’, I’m referring to static and passive stretching. I’m a big fan of movements that create strength through range. I like certain types of yoga for that reason – I believe activating the antagonists (opposite muscle groups) and synergists (assisting muscles) at the same time as stretching or lengthening the muscle creates much faster and long lasting change.

What do I mean by ‘lasting change?’ Well, if you need to do the same routine before every session, it’s pretty safe to say there’s not a lot of long term change taking place….

Which brings me to foam rolling and trigger point therapy.

These may all have a specific function in the short term. Long term, however, you’re really just destabilising the target joint. This creates real problems when the reason the muscle is tight is that your body is trying to create stability through increased muscle tone. I follow the philosophy of creating more stability through activation, the more things you have that are working, the more stable you are, and the more range you’re going to be able to develop.

In fact, I’ve spoken to people who’ve gone really gung-ho on their stretching, for example, stretching their hamstrings three times a day over an extended period of time. They frequently report tightening up somewhere else, like the calves or lower back. If you show your body that it can’t rely on something for stability, it’s just going to go somewhere else. Gray cook said it best, “Mobility efforts without reinstalling stability somewhere else simply don't last. Those hamstrings were tight for a reason. That T-spine is stiff for a reason”

At this point you might ask: “alright then, what should we do?”

The key, my friends, is to combine your stretching with activation and stabilization – the topic of next week’s post.

Stay tuned.

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