Sacred Disorder | Cliff Bostock's blog – 'Finally, I came to regard as sacred the disorder of my mind' (Rimbaud)

Stretching sucks

Being fanatical about exercise and having endured some serious injuries from lifting weights, I’ve learned a good bit about what’s helpful and what’s not in the gym. I’m not, however, the sort of person to give uninvited advice.

But I will sometimes “share information.” About six months ago, I saw someone engaging in a lot of static stretching. He was using a machine similar to the one pictured here. Many gyms have these and I’ve always questioned their usefulness. I long ago came to the conclusion that doing light sets of an exercise is far more effective at warming up and protecting against injury than stretching while counting to 20, as I was taught to do as a kid. Still, “just to be safe,” I continued to stretch now and then.

Then I read a study that not only concludes that static stretching is useless as a warmup, but found that it actually weakens the muscles. I knew the man I saw using the stretching machine was a massage therapist and I asked if he’d read about the finding. He got instantly angry. “That’s ridiculous,” he told me. He assured me that he knew very well that stretching is good stuff. He got downright nasty about it and I slunk off, vowing never to approach a stranger again in this way. I imagine the average Creationist responds to scientific evidence of evolution like this guy.

Now, I see that today’s New York Times has a piece about the subject, corroborating the earlier study I saw and advocating “dynamic stretching,” which is basically warming up with the motions that a sport or workout requires. It also corroborates the long-time advice to jog five or 10 minutes before a workout to warm the body.

A video accompanying the article does note that static stretches are useful following a workout. That’s been my experience too. If I do back exercises, the stretching machine is helpful at preventing spasms.

Read the article here.

I’m not sure what this study implies about yoga, which, as I understand it, is all about stretching.

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There are 2 Comments to "Stretching sucks"

  • Michael says:

    I’m just a student, but I think it might be more accurate to say that yoga is all about breathing. The asanas in yoga are frequently referred to in yoga “liturgy” as being adornments to the breath. I think the dynamic of yoga is a bit different from stretching regimens of the kind you’re describing in that yoga does–when administered by a competent teacher or practitioner–focus first on setting up a rhythm of deep, balanced breathing in and out (I’m still working on balancing in-breath with out-breath, as I think most students are) and using the asanas to facilitate the deepening of the breath. Also, stretching regimens don’t ask you to focus on any particular state of mind; beneath the focus on breath in yoga is, of course, the practice of quieting the mind. Another thing that distinguishes yoga from stretching regimens is that most varieties of yoga teach you to hold your core engaged while you’re moving through the asanas; I think this simple feature of the practice–when people adhere to it–helps avoid injuries that simple stretching regimens actually might invite. Again, I’m just a student. I’ve been doing yoga nearly nine years, and I still feel like a neophyte.

  • Cliff says:

    I didn’t mean to characterize yoga as a stretching practice and nothing more. I just wondered if the stretching entailed in the asanas has any potentially deleterious effects. Thinking about it, though, the static stretching under study is a warm-up for another activity, whereas yoga is not in preparation for another physical activity.

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