by Dr Andy Galpin
Today we’re going to talk about stretching.
Should you stretch before your training, after your training or perhaps maybe not at all… we’re going to get into that today.
Well, the answer really depends on three things:
- What type of stretching are you really talking about?
- How long are you stretching for and how long you stretching prior to when you’re going to exercise or do your competition?
- How bad your mobility or your movement or your flexibility really is?
I’m going to answer these questions very directly and very clearly. But more importantly, this gives us an opportunity to talk about the physiology and neurology of stretching movement in general. That’s really what the bulk of the video is dedicated to helping you have these answers of course, but really understanding why they’re true. If you’ve seen any of my videos or ever seen any of my material, really, you know that I’m really much more interested in people understanding the why behind the answer. The theory is if you understand the methods or in this case the physiology, then you’re never going to have a problem answering the question when the scenario changes a little bit. So don’t just memorize answers, understand how things work, and you’ll never have to memorize again.
The two types of stretching I’m going to talk about are what we’ll call dynamic and static.
Static is what you’ve traditionally seen before.
It’s the hold the hamstring stretch for 30 seconds. Its hold this for two minutes, whatever. It’s holding a position in a static, not moving typically at an end range of motion or close to it.
Dynamic is a little bit complicated.
If you look at the research on this topic, you’re going to get confused because a lot of the authors aren’t really clear when they’re talking about static stretching versus dynamic stretching and how that’s different than dynamic warm-up. So this is going to actually lead to a lot of confusion in the field. If you’re running to read stuff or you’ve heard somebody else talk about that and make sure they’re clarifying what I’m talking about. Dynamic, warm-up or dynamic stretching or if they even differentiate the two. So in my mind, dynamic warm up are things like in walking active movement. So an active body weight squat, while you’re maybe increasing the range of motion or how low you can get in your squat, but you’re kind of doing it through the movement itself, you’re really just getting warmed up.
You’ll see there are the pros and cons of the static versus dynamic here in a second.
But you know what they are?
You know the difference in standing and holding a hamstring stretch for two minutes versus doing an active hamstring movement where you’re kicking your leg up and down.
So I’m not going to really differentiate between dynamic and dynamic stretching at this point though.
So hopefully you get the basic idea of dynamic movement stuff versus a static hold. What we can talk about is the pros and cons of both. I can, if you’ve seen anything I ever do, I don’t talk about things being good or bad.
I like to understand, what’s the benefit and what’s the consequence?
And then you can deploy the appropriate thing at the appropriate time.
So the benefit of dynamic stretching is it can improve what I’ll call nervous or the nerves, muscle and the connective tissue. What I mean by that is you can see improvements in performance. If you look at the literature on this, you’ll see things like dynamic, warm up, improve your maximal strength, your sprinting speed, perhaps your vertical jump, things like that. If you’ve ever exercised before, you know exactly what I’m talking about. No one would ever set a max on their back squat, walking in cold off of the street with no warm up. You would of course progressively build up, do a little bit more, wait until you get closer, have a bit of a what’s called a potentiating effect and some other ancillary benefits of simply increasing core temperature, blood flow, et cetera.
So there’s really no dispute there that a dynamic warm-up of some type will enhance performance.
The downside of dynamic is it not going to be very good typically at an actually improving permanent changes in range of motion or flexibility. I don’t want to confuse anyone here, but I am actually a proponent of getting a lot of your changes in your, your flexibility through movements. So for example, I do believe that if you do heavy dosed or fairly heavy dose, say squatting and you try to push the end range of motion and by end range of motion, I mean in range of your quality of movement.
If all you did for a warm-up where Jumping Jacks and Burpees don’t expect to see improvements in your hamstring flexibility, you’re not spending enough time in those positions, right?
So, if we encounter someone who’s simply got all the requisite mobility and flexibility they need, they can probably jump right to dynamic warm-ups would be fine. But if somebody has a small, or especially a large deficit and range of motion, we’ve got to maybe think about adding some static stretching.
The benefit of the static is you’re going to probably see more, much more likelihood of increasing the permanence or what I’ll call a chronic random motion. We can also see that acutely.
Say if you’re a power lifter and you start warming up and your hips are just not there. If you go down to the bottom of a squat, hold it for a minute, you come back up, you’ll see increased range of motion. Right now that’s what I call a acute, so it has an immediate effect. It’ll also help you build up range of motion and mobility, your flexibility over, and we’ll get into the physiology of this in a second.
The downside is they’re going to probably reduce performance. They dissipate what’s called kinetic energy and I’ll get into that in a little bit. They also can inhibit or turn off muscle spindles. Both of these things are going to result in a decrease in performance and we see this in the literature as well.
In fact, it’s very well documented.
If you do say a a one minute hamstring hold, you’re probably going to reduce your ability to to vertical jump.
Speed goes down, squatting strength can go down.
Same thing if you stretched your pecs or your triceps and then did a bench press.
So we don’t want to be holding long stretches right before a maximal effort performance. But that doesn’t mean we don’t do static stretching. And that doesn’t even necessarily mean we don’t do static stretching before our workouts. We’ve got some things to get to here before we get a full answer on whether we should stretch before or after or never.
Let’s look at the physiology.
Remember, human movement is comprised of three areas.
We tend to think of human movement as a function of muscle, but that’s not an entire picture.
So look at my three different boxes…
The green one, the blue one, and the red one. You’re going to see that the box on the left hand side corresponds with an image on the right hand side. So the first part of human movement is the nervous system. That’s the green box. So the nerve has to come in telling muscle to contract. The muscle has to contract. It’s got to transfer its force from there to the connective tissue that surrounds the muscle. That connected tissue comes together and makes a tendon. That tendon attaches to the bone. The muscle then pulls the tendon or the connective tissue. The connected tissue pulls a tendon, tendon moves the bone you move.
So we have to think about all three of these layers or levels of human movement.
The nervous system, the muscle itself and three the connective tissue, the tendon, the ligaments and things like that.
That’s a quick version of the physiology.
Now, that being said, there’s two parts of the nervous system we’ve got to think about, and those fall under the umbrella of what’s called proprioception. If you’re in exercise science or have had these classes before, that term should ring a bell. I know you’ve had an exercise physiology, but proprioception is the idea of the nervous system understanding where you are at in the space. It’s got two primary branches that we need to think about and we’re talking about stretching. Branch number one is what I’ll call muscles spindles. These are buried inside the middle of the muscle belly, and for the most part, they don’t contain a lot of actin and myosin, which means they don’t contribute to contraction their sensory organs.
Just like you have a sense of smell, sight hearing, you have a sense of where you’re at in space based on these muscle spindles. Sensory organs take input in from the outside world and tell your neurology, your brainstem, your brain and spinal cord.
That’s exactly what muscle spindles do.
They sense stretch.
Imagine your hamstring is being stretched. That muscle spindles stretch. It sends information out via gamma motor neurons. Those gamma motor neurons go to your spinal cord. This is an involuntary reaction. We don’t have to go all the way to the brain and think about this just to, the spinal cord comes back out through what are called alpha motor neurons. So any of you that have had excess physiology, you remember the phrase that we throw out all the time. And if you, any of you are taking any kind of personal trainer or strength coach certification, I almost guarantee you they’re going to ask about what a quote unquote motor unit is. And I know you know the answer because it’s something you’ve memorized. It’s an alpha motor neuron and all the muscle fibers that it integrates. Well that alpha motor neuron is exactly what we’re talking about. So the muscle spindles senses. It’s being stretched, sends information via gamma motor neurons. The gamma motor neurons go to the central nervous system. In this case, the spine and the spine sends a signal back out through the, through the alpha motor neurons and tell the muscle fibers that are surrounding the muscles spindle to contract. This is what we call this a stretch shortening cycle.
So the hamstring is being stretched.
The muscle spindles in the hamstring sense that stretch, they send a signal to the spine, spine sends a signal back to the other muscle fibers in your hamstring and tell it to contract. So the stretch is met with the resulting shortening of the muscle and that’s a cycle.
Intrafusal versus extra fusil.
Intrafusal is a fancy way of saying muscles, spindle extra fusil are all the fibers that not muscles middle basically. But again, key point, muscle spindles are in the belly, don’t have a lot of the muscles. So deep inside the middle, they’re not there for contraction or sensory organs. So if you see the image over there, you’ve all probably had this happen to you, but you’ve gone to a physician for a physical and they’ve done this knee tap test, right? So you imagine sitting, and I’ll go back to the image here, sitting on a chair and your knees hanging down. A doctor comes in, hits your knee and your leg flex out.
So why does that actually happen?
Well, first of all, why is the doctor doing that and why do you have to get that done before you can play a sport? Well, it’s because they’re actually trying to look up the nervous system in general and in some parts of your spine. So they know that this stretch learning cycle thing happens.
So what they do is actually press quickly on your patella tendon. The patella tendon, you can see from the image wraps around the knee cap and inserts on the front of the shin. But all of your quadriceps muscles come together to make that and turn into that one large tendon. So if I press just below the knee cap on the patella tendon, it stretches the quadriceps over top of the knee, so the muscle spindles within the quadriceps should sense that stretch and respond very quickly with contraction. So when I smack the bottom of your knee there or your knee cap. We quickly stretch the quadriceps. The quadriceps then result in a quick contraction in your knee and your foot flings up in the air. If that doesn’t work for some reason, you could have some sort of neurological issue or spinal cord issue going on. Some people just don’t respond that thing very well, so don’t freak out, but that’s what they’re doing.
But what you also notice with this test is if you tapped, very lightly you wouldn’t see a response. Also, if you tapped hard but slowly you wouldn’t see the response either. And so the amount of stretch shortening cycle contraction we get is in part based on how hard it’s stretched and how quickly it stretched, where to come back to. This concept and a little bit here, but don’t forget that stress during the cycle is dependent upon again the level of stretch as well as how quickly it is stretched.
Now the Golgi tendon organs are a little bit different…
. They live in the attendance of the muscle spindles live in the muscle that GTOs Golgi tendon organs living in intended and unlike spindles where they send stretch and respond by contracting GTOs sense tension and respond by telling the muscle to stop contracting. The common thing that we teach in class here is from the image you can imagine it is a sensory organ, just like a spindle. So the tendon, which is the part that connects the muscle to the bone is going to sense a lot of force, a lot of contraction, like you’re doing a really heavy muscle contraction, you’re trying to pick something up and there’s a lot of force going on in the tendon and the GTO decides this is too much. I’m going to send a signal back of the spinal cord and block those same alpha motor neurons. So again, unlike a spindle which causes contraction and GTO causes relaxation. So instead of stimulating the alpha motor neurons, it inhibits the alpha motor neurons and you see, you can see the little stop octagon. I’ve got there on the other end. And so we’ve got this a little bit of a complimentary system.
If you were to stand on one foot and imagine you’re falling to one side to the outside over here, the medial parts, the inside of my calf would start being stretched as I fall this direction, so as the medial part of my calf is being stretched, the muscle spindles would activate contract and pulled me back the midline. That’s the point of a muscle spindle. A GTO is a little bit different. If I were to be stretching my calf too far here and the GTO thought that we’re in a situation where if we continue to have forced production in this muscle, something will tear. It’ll stop the contraction. So two different functions, both a bit protective one to put you back to midline, the other to stop you from tearing muscle.
I’ll be honest with you here.
I don’t think that’s exactly what GTOs do.
In fact, most of the research indicates that’s not actually what they do, but we’ll have to come back to this later. Or maybe best case scenario, you’ll go into a deep dive and look up GTOs, what they actually function with the research says, and maybe there’s somebody out there who’s a GTO expert and you can let me know, send me an email or write a comment here and correct me here because I don’t actually think that’s how they work, but for the part of our story, and you know what? I’m a man who doesn’t believe that the truth should ever get in the way of a good story. So we’re going to move right on.
So if we go back to this original concept then, how does this apply to dynamic and static stretching?
Well, I said earlier, the consequence of dynamic stretching is this not going to really induce a lot of permanent changes in range of motion? But why? Well, on the flip side, why does static allow both acute so immediate and long-term changes and range of motion? Has this actually happened? Now that we know a little bit about the physiology of movement. Let’s take a look. Here’s back to our schematic. Well, here’s what we know. If I do some static stretching, I can see very acute changes in range of motion, very immediate, and that’s probably mostly because of the nervous system.
So think about, touch your toes right now.
Well give it two more seconds.
Three more seconds.
You see an immediate improvement in your quote unquote range of motion of your hamstrings within seconds.
Do you think your hamstring muscle really got longer or hamstrings got longer?
Then why are you able to actually touch your toes?
You may have seen people do things like you stand here and just rub your hamstring or a low lacrosse ball on the bottom of your foot and you immediately see an improvement range of motion.
That’s not because of the muscle. It’s not because a level two it’s because of level one. You’ve got a little bit of neurology that’s holding on. And this is why we can also do fun things like rub the back of our head or have perhaps a needle stuck in our arm or even do breathing drills. And somehow we immediately see improvements in range of motion. Well, there is a neurological component. And you can be held in neurological positions because of stress, anxiety or other issues.
So if I do static stretching, when I go to stretch my hamstrings, for example, remember those muscle spindles immediately turn on. If you stretch the hamstring, it wants to contract and fight that. But after a few seconds it realizes all, Oh, this is intentional. Okay, well relax. And so what happens is a couple of seconds in the muscle spindles that are fighting, you relax and you start to gain range of motion. But I remember that’s coming from you, not actually gaining and range of motion. It’s just you letting go of the restriction you had. It’s kind of a double negative, right? So you remove the inhibitor and you’re actually able to get to that current range of motion that you, that you enjoy.
The other thing that can happen is this…
Now there’s a method of stretching that is very effective called PNF proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching. So let’s take the example of the hamstrings muscle group. And let’s imagine we’re doing a hamstring stretch. Whichever one you like. It can be the seen in Hurdler stretch or whatever one you’re doing. Now, if you were to sit there and you, if you were while you stretched your hamstring, you flex your quad really hard. In fact, if you ever pay attention, you noticed that’s what we’re always cuing, If you’re stretching your hip flexor, what should you be squeezing your glute, right? If I’m stretching my triceps, we should be flexing the opposite side. So we’re always flexing the exact opposite muscle.
Why is that?
Because the muscle spindles and the hamstring are turned off when the opposite muscles contract, it’s called reciprocal inhibition. Body understands I’m trying to contract with my quad in order to do that I have to let go of my hamstring to let my quad actually move. If not, I’d be stuck in an isometric hold. And so if we’re trying to gain range of motion, we can trick our neurological system to turning off the muscle spindles by flexing the opposite muscle really hard. And that’s not exactly PNF stretching, but it’s a really good concept for stretching.
PNF is this second bullet point, which is now what we would do is we would flex that quadriceps. So we would get a nice big range of motion or hamstrings and then we would start contracting our hamstring. Of course, let go with the quadriceps. But you would flex the hamstring 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or whatever you want to do. Five seconds, ten second holds, something like that where you flex the hamstring, then you relax the hamstring and you notice, Oh wow, I can stretch my hamstring farther now, what happened? This contract relax contracts idea is called PNF stretching and it takes advantage of the GTOs.
So remember the GTOs and the hamstrings are going to sense tension and they cause the hamstring to relax. Remember, they block the alpha motor neurons. So if I put a little bit of tension in them on on purpose, activate the GTOs, the GTOs will then block the muscle activation and causes the muscle to relax. Because of that, I gain an acute range of motion. So I can use this again acutely or chronically. Number one, if I’m just needing to get some hamstring flexibility or some triceps flexibility or whatever I need, I can do a little bit of stretching prior to my workout and gained some acute range of motion. I can also use this as a chronic stretching tool and it’s fairly effective. In fact, it’s probably my favorite method of stretching for that purpose. And that’s working because of what’s called autogenic inhibition. But it’s the same idea you’re turning on the GTOs, getting the muscle to relax. Very good thing for honestly just general relaxation too. So if you’re trying to do some relaxation drills the night before a big competition, or you’re stressed because of finals week or something like that, they spend 10 minutes doing a whole button is six minutes, three minutes doing a whole body, a PNF stretch kind of thing. Autogenic ambition, turn things on and let it relax, gain range of motion, et cetera. So it’s really helpful for that. Okay, so that’s the acute side. On the chronic side, here’s what we probably know. If you see any improvements in range of motion or flexibility over the course of say, Hey, a month later, two months later, three months later, it’s probably not nervous system based. Again, if you fix that, if you have that issue that’s kind of just kind of get you to the level that you normally have, you’re going to stop blocking. But how do you add more range of motion? Well, it’s not going to come from muscle either. Now technically there’s a mechanism in which you can add Serco mirrors and serial line and lengthen the actual muscle, but that is a different thing where entirely my money and we need more research in this area, no doubt about it, but my money is that any real changes in range of motion you have are actually coming from the connective tissue and what we know is that takes time and load, so you have to kind of hold it, be in those positions for a very long time because remember there is no blood flow in a connective tissue. It’s not something that’s really that plastic and adaptable compared to the muscle itself. And so we have to invest a bit of time in the connected tissue to really see changes there, but that is much easier to do than actually lengthening the muscle itself. My estimation anyways, again, and we do need more research in this area. It’s not at all clear, but that’s probably what we’re looking at. And so if we look at the package combined, static stretching is going to give us that nervous system because of autogenic and reciprocal inhibition and it’s going to give us, or it’s allow us to see in PR improvements and changes in the connected tissue itself, which will actually lead to changes in position. And so if we really have an athlete or a client, individual or yourself that really actually needs to see some changes in mobility, flexibility, we don’t want to eliminate static stretching entirely. We need to understand when to use it though. And so we’ll come back to our, our thing here and we’ll do the inverse, which is talk about dynamic. So we said the pros of dynamic are that they can improve performance, the consequences are of static or they can, they hurt performance. So let me give you an example. Do me a favor here. If you’re able to only stand up and I want you to perform a counter movement jump, I’ll give you just a second. If you don’t know what that is, stand up nice and tall. Get as fast as you can and jump as fast as you can. Now don’t land on anything and tear an ACL or rolled ankle or anything, but go ahead and do one for me. If you’re on the ground doing an explosive jump, push up. Do some real explosive movement. Go ahead, do it. I’m not, I’m not kidding. We’re not moving on. Now we’re going to stay right here and tell all of you do it. Every single one of you do it. Okay, you jumped counter moving. Now do it one more time, but do it faster. In other words, remember the muscle spindle thing. If I do a counter movement, jump and then try to explode versus dip and drive. The faster you dip and drive the more muscle spindle activation, we can get higher. You’ll jump right there. We’re using muscle spindles to our advantage by putting the hamstrings and glutes on a quick stretch. We can go to or convince or cheat or glutes, the hamstrings and the contracting really quickly. Okay, got that counter movement. Jump in. Now, what I want you to do is this. Stand up all the way. Shake it out. I’m going to have you squat all the way down now. I would do it right now, but you would lose me on camera. In fact, squat all the way down and hold. And now Ryan’s going to let this clock. Ryan, can you, if you can put a clock on the screen here and let it run for a minute. Go. And we’re going to hold this position for a whole minute and you should notice a couple of different things. Hey, number one as a second skull by state, get your ass back down there. I didn’t say stand up. Hold that squat hold all the way down there. As the time goes on, you’ll start to see improvement. Range of motion. Remember what we talked about earlier. Hey you static stretch. You will see acute range of motion improvements, neurological systems turning off. In other words, turning muscle spindles off GTOs probably not doing a lot here, but muscle spindles are going on and you’re seeing a very small and in fact may be very large. Improve range of motion. Keep holding. Ryan, you let this thing run until that whole minute comes up and at the end of this minute we’re going to jump up as high as you can. Now, a couple things before we jump, do not bounce, so don’t read it. Don’t stand up a little bit. Go back down and jump. Want you to go from exactly where you’re at right now and when this one minute clock ends explode, jump up. Boom.
How many of you got very high in the air?
Probably none of you are.
In fact, some of you probably didn’t even clear the ground.
Now which one of these times, this one or the counter room would jump?
Did you jump higher?
Certainly the one before, right?
Well, why is that?
Why did that short pout of static stretching, although it improved range of motion,
Why did it hurt performance?
Well, two things. Number one, it’s actually dissipating kinetic energy. And so the way we create human movement, it’s a three part system, nerve and muscle and connective tissue. Well, the nerve is a signal. The actual contraction or force production comes from the muscle and a connected tissue so your muscle can contract anytime you tell it to. And it has its own way to produce ATP and energy to create force. But the only thing we can do for connected tissue, since it doesn’t have actin and myosin, it doesn’t have metabolism really, is we can put some energy in the system called kinetic energy and then extracts and energy out. So by putting in muscle on stretch, we start stretching connective tissue when we start putting energy into that system. But if you hold that for long enough, that energy eventually dissipates. So then when I go to contract, I’m left with only the muscle that contribute to force production. I mean, imagine a rubber band. If I held the rubber band that pulled it back a little bit and let it go and snap with some force, if I pulled it back a lot, it was snapping a lot more forest. So more stretch, more force. And if I pulled it back quickly and snapped it, I would get a big snap out of it. All right, well again, see the strength video and all this, but think of the connected tissue like a rubber band. If though I pulled that rubber band way out and it held like that for 10 years, when I let it go, what happened to the rubber band, it probably wouldn’t move at all, right? So we lost elasticity. I now have that as an extreme example, but the same things happening on a smaller level where you can lose the kinetic energy that we store up in the connective tissue. So again, to reiterate the acute stretch. If I already dip and drive, the more stretched, the more forced production. But if I do it for too long, I lose my kinetic energy. And the faster the stretch, the more forced production. So then take a look at something like this you’ve all seen somebody do this. Oh, what happened right there? Let’s think about the physiology. So parents going down there, he’s squatting and right there, why did he do that? All right, why do people balance at the bottom? We’ll see it on a bench press right? Come back up, maybe rebound, bounce back up. We see it very consistently in a squad. What happens as you’re sitting at the bottom of that squat there, we start to lose that kinetic energy. So that means our contribution for forced production are going entirely on the muscle. We’re losing all of the connected tissue. What happens if I do that? Quick little rebound? I can actually put some energy back into that connective tissue and I can reactivate muscle spindles because remember when we statically stretch like that and the muscle spindles turn off. But if I kind of shake them up for a quick second, even a half second like that, we get a little bit of connective muscle spindle activation again. All right, so should I bounce like that? Well, what have we learned? Everything has a pro and a con, right? So we got to think through it. Why do that rebound? We can add Connecticut energy. Like I said, and we can reactivate the strength sorting cycle. And so now what we can think about then is pausing if you’re familiar with strength training in all or the sports weight lifting or power lifting. Some coaches will use what are called pause squats or pause lifts. So imagine an athlete like that. They’d go down the bottom and they hold for 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 seconds. They may rebound like that, but most of the time, but it’s going to come straight back up. It’s very different than somebody who goes down to the bottom of the control and then explodes off the bottom or bounces even intentionally on the bottom. Which one’s better? Well, it depends on our goal, right? Let’s think about physiology again. So if I’m going all the way to the bottom like that and I stop, I dissipate kinetic energy, which means I rely entirely on muscle. If I go quickly though, I’m actually doing the opposite. If I do a quick rebound, I’m relying heavily on neurology and heavy on connected tissue, especially if I do that quick rebound at the end range of motion. So if I do a quick rebound like this, like a vertical jump, I’m not really going to stretch the connected tissue because I didn’t really put the system on a range of motion. I’m just going to use nervous system. But if I do a full range of motion, I use the nervous system muscle spindles and I get the connected tissue because they’re really stretched out.
So depends on our goal.
Are we trying to train the muscle?
We trying to train the other parts of human movement? We’ve got to think about this first. That’s our answer. I don’t know the goal. I can’t tell you what to do. So here’s some examples. Myself personally I am very reactive as what I call it. So if I were to do a static vertical jump or a counter move a vertical jump, or if I did what’s called a static. So I go down and hold a quarter squat position for three or four seconds and then jump, which one should I jump higher with the squat and pause, the static jump or the counter room at jump? Well certainly should be the counter room at jump, right? In fact, almost all of us should be at the question is how much should they differ? If, say I had a 30 inch vertical with my paws and jump and then with my counter movement I had a 40 inch vertical. Well, here’s what that would tell me. I’m very good at getting power enforced production. When I get to use my connective tissue in the muscle spindles and so an athlete like me, I would have benefited from a lot more pause work because that was already very good at using connected tissue in the nervous system. My muscles were not as strong though as my nervous system and my connected tissue work, so if I take the nervous system and connect cut tissue out of it, in other words, go down and hold and stop. I force myself to improve my weakness, which in my case was the muscles side. If you look at an athlete who says, okay, did my static and I did my counter movement and I did 30 inches with my static in 31 with my counter, then I would say the opposite. You need to actually develop your connected tissue. You need to develop the muscles spindle side of things, so you need, don’t pause as much. I need you to maybe add a little more, bounce in there and get a little bit more snappy, a little bit snappier if you will. And so both are appropriate. And so we have to think about this when we’re thinking about our stretching paradigm, what are we trying to do? I know if I static stretch a ton, I’ll lose some energy in the connected tissue that’s going to put more reliance on muscle that’s going to decrease my performance. But maybe if my training goal is to take some burden off the connected tissue, put more on muscle. Who cares? It’s a part of my developmental program. It’s, I’m a freshman in high school. I don’t care about maximizing my jump now or it’s off season. I’m not in the season. Where are we really trying to work for? You don’t have those questions answered. I can’t answer the question of static versus dynamic, right? Or are we doing the opposite? Are we close to competition? Are we in the sport of power lifting or are we using squatting to be a better football player or a soccer player or tennis player? Or am I training for I purchasing? What am I training for, someone who’s training for say fat loss or health, they don’t probably care if they lose 10% of power production and training if it makes them feel better, if they get in a better range of motion and that allows them to get new better position so they’re not as injured as much. So all of this stuff has to go into context. Now that you understand the physiology, hopefully we can have better answers.
Should I stretch before or after or neither?
Now I want to see how you do here. So think through all the physiology. Can you envision situations at least one where it would be a good idea to do static stretching before working out?
Give me one time when it be smart to do static before working out.
I’ll give you one example.
Maybe somebody has really poor range of motion and it’s hard for them to do anything heavier fast without doing some stretching beforehand because they can’t get into a good position. So every time they go to squat, for example, since they have such poor range of motion in their hip sockets, as soon as they get to any depth, they start losing their low back position. Well, I don’t care if they lose 5% power, I’d rather than stay in a good position so they don’t get hurt. So in that particular case, I’d be happy to sacrifice a little bit of fatigue or a little bit of max force production or sprinting speed in order to gain range of motion and quality of movement. Now I’ll probably have to have a different strategy to chronically improve their range of motion. I can’t just do five minutes of stretching before a workout and think that’s going to actually change anything chronically, but I might be willing to sacrifice that.
Now could you give me the opposite?
Give me a scenario in which it would be maybe not the best idea to static stretch before a workout.
Maybe an athlete in peak competition. Probably don’t want to do 30 minutes to hamstring stretching before I try to win a gold medal in a hundred meter dash. Probably not smart idea at all. But I wouldn’t want to forget to warm up either. So in that particular case, what would I do? Maybe something more like a dynamic warm-up.
Now give me a third scenario. So give me a scenario in which say you have an athlete and its part of their brain and they just refuse to not stretch before the workout. They’re going to stretch one amount of what you say or you have a coach that makes you stretch. How can you fix this problem knowing that it’s going to compromise power a little bit, speed, force production.
Can you increase the time between stretching and performance?
Now the research is a bit unclear here and it kind of depends, but basically the longer you can give between the two, the better you can restore some of that kinetic energy and that elasticity to the connective tissue by waiting longer. So if you can do your stretching in the morning before your night competition, you’re, you’re probably going to be okay. And in fact, you’ll see a lot of athletes like to do this. They’ll do a good stretch mobility, loosen up thing in the morning and then compete at night. That’s probably fine if that’s not an option. And you have to do it like right before your workout. Well you can probably, again, really thin research here, but I think you can probably get away with doing some reactivation. And so you do your 15 or 20 minutes of static stretching. You kind of shut some things off unintentionally. Well, instead of just going into your squats, maybe do some hamstring activation stuff? So like fast things and get the hamstrings to turn back on again. I think you can mitigate some the problems or attenuate them at least by doing a reactivation. So we need a lot of work there and it’s really tough. A lot of coaches abused this activation concept, but it’s getting the right idea at least.
So to summarize…
Number one dynamic is pretty much always a good idea to do before a training.
Number two static is okay before training. If a couple of things, number one, range of motion is incredibly poor and that is going to compromise safety and we really don’t want that. Number two, if you’ve got more than probably 45 minutes or so between your stretching and your performance, again, the longer the better, but at least 45 minutes. And number three, if you have time to do some quote unquote reactivation work that will probably be behoove you before going in performance.
Best case scenario though, do your dynamic movements stuff before your workout.
Do your workouts and then if you need to gain the chronic range of motion, you can use that time, either post training or the day off to improve range of motion.
You can do a lot of static stretching after your workouts to work on your flexibility range of motion and mobility or on your off day.