Do I need to be stretching? Why do we not stretch before our workouts? What stretches do I need to do for this part of my body? These are some of the most common questions that surface as an individual traverses a resistance exercise program. This is often due to the “tightness” that occurs post workout and that can persist for the ensuing 2-5 days as well as the false notion that resistance exercise makes us “muscle bound.”
A 2011 research study conducted at the University of North Dakota examined the effect of a traditional static stretching protocol vs performing resistance exercise through full range of motion. They divided participants into three groups: one that performed 5 weeks of static stretching, one that performed 5 weeks of resistance exercise and one that had no intervention (control group). At the conclusion of the study, researchers found no significant differences in range of motion between intervention groups when assessing hamstring extension, hip flexion, hip extension, or shoulder extension. However, both intervention groups saw an increased range of motion when compared to the control (non-intervention) group. Thus, the notion of becoming “muscle bound” or developing excessive tightness from resistance exercise is not only unsubstantiated, but the opposite effect was seen. By performing only resistance exercise, participants saw INCREASED joint range of motion and muscle flexibility to the same extent of those individuals performing only static stretching.
Additionally, traditional static stretching may in fact have adverse effects on muscle performance. A 2012 study examined the results of over 100 previous studies ranging from 1966-2010 that included over 2,000 participants. They concluded “Clear evidence from 104 studies that pre-exercise static stretching induces significant and practically relevant negative acute effects on maximal muscle strength and explosive muscular performance, regardless of subject’s age, gender, or training status.” This is ironic in that one of the principal reasons for incorporating a stretching regimen (especially in athletics) is to improve both muscle strength and performance.
Take home messages:
1) Performing resistance exercise though a full range of motion has the same effect on joint range of motion as performing a traditional static stretching protocol.
2) If you are going to perform static stretching, do so AFTER your resistance exercise workout or AFTER your athletic event as doing so before can impede muscle strength and performance (i.e stretching is not a good warm up).
3) Traditional static stretching does not alleviate resistance exercise induced muscle tightness or soreness.
4) Before incorporating a static stretching routine ask yourself “why am I doing this?”. If you are doing so because you enjoy it, you find it relaxing, or you are using it to improve mental health (yoga for example), that is justifiable. However, if you are under the assumption that “I need to” or “It will help me get more from my workout” then consider avoiding it all together.