Friday, 10 September 2010

Stretching and Mobility

I used to stretch a lot. Being the obsessive type, I developed a routine that hit all the muscles and took around 15 minutes to complete. I would do this before and after each run, and even on non-running days or after weights sessions.

Stretching Injuries

Something stuck me time and again: most of the injuries I developed appeared to originate from stretching. Not all of them, of course: as any former running shoe user, I can tell stories of runner's knee, Achilles tendonitis and shin splints. But most of them were indeed from stetching.

Over-zealousness was probably a factor. I was not content to just stretch. I had to become really flexible. Overstretching is not good.

I have now stopped stretching more or less entirely.

Why I Stopped Stretching

Other than my tendency to injure myself doing it, I stopped because I read a variety of articles that question whether it is effective. This one suggests it leads to reduced strength. This one suggests it has no impact on reducing running injury.

That said, some studies suggest it may reduce stiffness when done after exercise, so admittedly the evidence is mixed; but for me, mixed evidence did not justify the time I was spending on it - and since stopping has apparently done me no harm, why bother?

Cavemen did not 'Stretch'

Hunters of yesteryear certainly didn't stretch in a way that resembles what runners typically do, so provided we exercise it a way that broadly aligns with what they did, it should not be necessary.

Mark Sisson recommends two Primal 'stretches' - the hang and the squat (at 0:50 in the sprint video). I often do these for a minute when I feel like it, usually after a workout.


Instead of stretching routines, I've started doing mobility work. This is more akin to dynamic/ballistic stretching, which the above study on strength suggests might not have the same adverse effect on performance. Mobility work has the added benefit of ensuring joints are able to go through a full range of movement.

The routine in this video is one I often use.

This is a good website that focuses on mobility.

More Information

Chris from Conditioning Research has done a lot of reading around this subject, so to find out more, check out his posts on stretching and mobility.


sbrt said...

As a martial artist I used to stretch a lot too.
Nowadays I have mostly dropped the static stretches but still do dynamic stretches and mobility stuff as my warm up.

Aaron Blaisdell said...

I LOVE the time I save by not stretching, not running/cycling/deadmilling for many minutes at a time, multiple times a week (I never did that anyway), not doing too many reps or sets of lifting heavy things, not worrying if I skip a day or a week of strength training or sprinting, etc. I would LOVE the time I save not doing these things even more if that time wasn't filled up by the constant attention my 2 and 5 year old girls require. :) Wish I was a member of a tribe to help raise my kids rather than the modern nuclear family with no family in the vicinity. It doesn't feel natural, to me and my wife or to our kids.

Methuselah said...

Stephen - I think people often assume I am into martial arts when they see me doing the lateral leg movements. Little do they know, I couldn't fight my way out of a paper bag!

Aaron - I have no kids (yet) so we are an even more isolated pair! Then again, we need less help, so I guess it feels okay. We have a lot of friends who are likely to have children at the same time as us and live close by, so we hope to create some kind of pseudo-tribal support system.