"Stretch for Change" by Dr. Deb Rivera

By Dr. Deb Rivera

Today I would like to address my pet peeve when it comes to working out: people who stretch out before engaging in a fitness activity (as opposed to after they've completed their workout).  As a doctor and a health educator, I cringe when I see this. As a former professional dancer, I can tell you that in the past, this was a commonplace in both the dance field (stretching at the ballet barr before being warmed up) and among athletes. As a youth training for competitive dance, I had one coach who had us doing cold splits as a warm up exercise! EGADS! I've fought for over 25 years against this harmful practice of stretching prior to exercising, but still it prevails, AND, is still debated among fitness/medical experts as to whether it should or should not be done. My expert opinion: Never! Here's why:

      cold muscles and fibers are generally not prepared, and damage can occur. When warmups/exercise is applied before stretching, blood flow increases, and tissues become more pliable (Harvard Health Publishing, 2013).

If you are not convinced, here is a simple demonstration you can do yourself to validate the concept: take a rubber band and freeze it. Take a second rubber band and place it in a bowl of hot water (not necessarily boiling or scalding. Do NOT microwave the rubber band). The heated rubber band should be more “stretchy" than the cold rubber band, and in fact the latter might even snap/break when stretched. The bands mimic the body's ability to stretch and its elastic properties. A warm rubber band should have more pliability than the cold one.

Warming muscles before stretching should entail five to 10 minutes of light activity (Harvard Health, 2013). This is also referred to as dynamic warm ups. In a nutshell: to warm up in a dynamic fashion means you are moving as you stretch (rather than stationary and holding a stretch) (Perry, 2013). As a dance educator, I have previously outlined a protocol/handbook for warmup/dynamic exercises at a studio I taught at. Though dance-based, these are simple dynamic actions and can be utilized by anyone. These include: marches, single side steps, toe taps, flexing and pointing toes, and "shaking" (shiver the body). These are grounded in locomotor movements and dynamic training. Other effective warm up movements are: walking, low intensity biking (stationery bike), low impact jogging (Mayo Clinic, 2017), and low impact jumping jacks or leg kicks (Reynolds, 2013).

Although research is ever changing about fitness, in recent years experts have agreed that stretching prior to exercise should not be practiced. According to Quinn (2018), stretching was promoted at one time as a measure to prevent overuse or acute injuries, and a means to reduce muscle soreness. However, this has not been substantiated, and in fact--depending on the type of stretch--can be detrimental. For example, ballistic (bouncing) stretches activate reflexes, which in turn, signals muscles to contract. The muscles tighten rather than loosen--the opposite effect of what stretching was intended for (Olsen, n.d.). Static stretching--in which a muscle is moved through the end of its range of motion (and maintaining a pain-free stretch for approximately 30 seconds) is effective for increasing flexibility (but only when used at the appropriate point within a workout) (Plack, 2011).

Simic, Sarabon, and Markovic (2013) expounds on this, stating that stretching (specifically, static stretching) prior to weight lifting reduces strength in stretched muscles, weakening them and impeding performance level. Gergley (2013) reported similar findings; intensive stretching (passive static type) should be avoided prior to training the lower body and instead recommends active dynamic warm ups.

Stretching should be an integral part of a fitness regimen--at the conclusion of an activity. Stretching improves joint range of motion, flexibility, and enables muscles to function more efficiently (Mayo Clinic, 2017). This ties into boosting your body for everyday tasks--better known as functional fitness training (our daily life movement patterns--stretching to reach things, squatting down to pick things up, rotating the torso, etc.) (Moncayo, 2013).

Next month, I will elaborate on the do’s and don'ts of stretching, PNF stretching, and fascial training.

Until then, I leave you with this: "Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape."

MICHAEL MCGRIFFY M.D.

References:

Gergley, JC. (2013). Acute effect of passive static stretching on lower-body strength in moderately trained men. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 27(4):973-7. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e318260b7ce

Harvard Health Publishing. (2013). The importance of stretching. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-importance-of-stretching

Mayo Clinic (2017). Stretching: Focus on flexibility. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/stretching/art-20047931

Moncayo, J. (2013). What is functional fitness? https://www.rodalewellness.com/fitness/benefits-functional-exercises

Olsen, E. (n.d.). Why is ballistic or excessive stretching bad? https://www.sharecare.com/health/stretching-exercise-warm-up/why-ballistic-excessive-stretching-bad

Perry, M. (2013). Try this full-body dynamic warm-up to prep for any workout.https://greatist.com/fitness/full-body-dynamic-warm-up

Plack, LA. (2011). Stretching tips for athletes: Dynamic and static stretching.https://www.hss.edu/conditions_stretching-tips-athletes-dynamic-static.asp

Reynolds, G. (2013). Reasons not to stretch. https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/03/reasons-not-to-stretch/

Quinn, E. (2018). Does stretching matter for athletes? https://www.verywellfit.com/does-stretching-matter-3119195

Simic, L., Sarabon, N., & Markovic, G. (2013).Does pre-exercise static stretching inhibit maximal muscular performance? A meta-analytical review.  Scandanavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports. 23 (2):131-48. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0838.2012.01444.x.

Editor's Corner

By Jennifer Lawson

Happy May!

Mother's Day is in May and I hope that everyone has a special woman in their life--whether a biological mother or a mother surrogate--they can celebrate and share things with.

I will be celebrating with my mother, who has always been there for me.

Mothering, especially in this day and age, takes a lot of work--work that is scarcely noticed, paid or re-paid. So I hope you take the time to celebrate the mother in your life this month and treat her with something special.

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