April 21, 2008


[By Crabby]

Do you stretch?

If so, do you think it does you any good?

I've always been a big believer in stretching. It seems to help my back and knees and it's the least loathsome part of my exercise routine. But because I don't hate it, I do way less of it than I should.

Yes, I know--that makes no sense at all. But here's what happens:

I save stretching for the end of my workout. So if I'm the least bit rushed that day, I'll get to the stretching part and say to myself, "oh, you like stretching--you can just do that later, it will be fun!"

Then I almost never remember to do it later. Or if I do remember, it no longer sounds fun. Because later in the day I'm not comparing it to the treadmill or the leg press machine, I'm comparing it to eating dinner or checking up on my favorite blogs or watching Grey's Anatomy. Come evening, even bad TV beats good exercise.

We Interrupt This Post For a Special Note to The Yoga People:
You folks are hereby excused--unless you just want to hang out and make fun of the rest of us. You have the stretching thing totally down already. You can go back to your poses--Hungry Snake On a Mountain or Upside Down Duck Looking for Bugs or whatever.)

(Goodbye, Gratuitous Semi-Naked Yoga Guy!)

So here's what I've always heard about stretching:

If you don't want to end up tottering around on unbendable limbs like Frankenstein's monster, or shredding up your joints and tendons and cartilage and muscles when you participate in strenuous athletic endeavors such as surf-boarding or mountain climbing or running a marathon bending over to tie your shoes, then you have to stretch, right?

Stretching is one of those crucial, obligatory foundations of healthy living-- like drinking enough water, getting aerobic exercise, or starting your day with a nutritious breakfast.

Note: This is Not a Nutritious Breakfast

And stretching should happen after you've warmed up; you should breathe deeply rather than asphyxiate yourself; and you should hold the stretch without moving, (and particularly without bouncing) for at least 30 seconds.

So Here's What I'm Starting To Hear Now About Stretching:

Stretching Ain't All It's Cracked Up to Be:
Some research seems to say stretching doesn't actually prevent muscle soreness.

And static stretching (where you hold the stretch rather than move around), may even be counter-productive if you do it right before a competitive event. According to Greek researchers and That's Fit health bloggers, pre-exercise stretching can decrease muscle strength. (Longer than 30 seconds, strength decreased by 8.5 percent; more than 60 seconds led to decrease of 16 percent).

Apparently There is Such Thing as Dynamic Stretching:
There are perfectly good stretches that involve moving around, instead of just holding your position and cursing. In fact, dynamic stretching seems like a better idea if you're the competitive sort and want to stretch right before a race or something.

To get you started, here are a few sample dynamic stretches. In addition there is always the popular "supine couch stretch" in which one tries to simultaneously reach for the remote with one hand while balancing a pint of Ben & Jerry's on the stomach and attempting to pet the cat with the other hand--a stretch that Cranky Fitness doesn't exactly recommend, but we do acknowledge that it's more fun than the other kind.

What You Should Stretch and When You Should Stretch Is Actually Kinda Complicated.
According to our friend Mike Howard over at Diet Blog, stability is important as well as flexibility--so people who are too flexible can get injured as easily as those who are too tight.

He says relative flexibility is a key: often when one joint is too tight, the adjacent joint is too flexible. "The key is to try and stabilize what is too loose and release what is too tight." And that "asymmetry of flexibility is a more likely cause of injury than tightness..." for example, "if one hamstring muscle is far tighter than the other".

Well phooey. That sounds harder than just doing the same damn thing I've been doing for the last 30 years, whenever I actually remember to do it. And how do you know if you're asymmetrical and you're stretching the right things? Anyone know?

But the Nice Old-Fashioned Authorities on Health Still Seem to think the Boring Old Kind of Stretching Is Just Peachy.

Mayo Clinic, for example, says stretching can increase flexibility and range of motion, improve circulation, relieve stress, reduce injury, and improve posture. And their how-to-stretch slide show features the usual suspects--those static stretches you've seen everywhere for the last 20 years or so. If they're good enough for Mayo, maybe they're good enough for me?

So What Are Crabby's Thoughts and Observations About Stretching And All this Research?

I thought you'd never ask!

1. Do static stretching (the regular, non-moving kind) after your work-out, not before. (But, for heaven's sake, I've been hearing this for years and years now! Why are all the studies dissing stretching, then talking about the pre-exercise kind?)

2. Dynamic stretching is an interesting idea and I may try to incorporate a little of it into my very haphazard stretching routine.

3. Research, smeesearch, you have to figure out what works for you. For most people I know, skipping out on the stretching means lower back pain and sore necks and tight calves and creaky knees and all-around crankiness. However, if you're young and lucky and flexible and it doesn't seem to make much difference whether you stretch or not, then the heck with it! And check out both static and dynamic stretching--you may want to do both or neither or one might work better than the other.

So what do you folks think about stretching? What do you actually do?


  1. I love the animations at the dynamic stretch website, except on the groin stretches they should show the ball popping out from under your leg and flying across the room!

    Yesterday, I climbed up on the retaining wall that I misstep from last spring that caused my knee injury. I was practically shaking. I realized how much flexibility and "mettle" I had lost since that fateful day. I am only 46 years old and should still have possession of my full complement of mettle thank-you-very-much!

    I realized I needed to get out and get moving more, so your post on stretching is timed perfectly!


  2. I stretch at the end of my workouts - if I have time, sometimes I will actually throw in a yoga DVD, sometimes I just stretch on my own. But I always stretch.

    Once (back when I still had a gym membership) I had done what I thought was an easy workout - a slow walk on the treadmill, but with steeper inclines than I was used to. I was in a rush to get out of the gym, and I thought I hadn't worked all that hard, so I skipped the stretching that day. I woke up in the middle of the night with muscle spasms in my glutes and had to take advil to get back to sleep. Ow. I was sore for days. Since then, I have never skipped stretching.

  3. I do a few simple yoga stretches. I feel better and I can now reach the top cupboards whilst keeping my feet flat. Before yoga I often had to stand on tiptoe to get to the middle cupboards. I'm not quite 5'4" so this is an accomplishment.

  4. I took a yoga for runners course and thought at first it was silly just targeting a certain niche, but really - those are the people who forget about stretching the most and who need it BADLY.

    It was probably the best thing I did and something I try to keep up now. A few downward dogs a day never hurt this mouse.

  5. I have always hated to stretch! That said, with my time in the martial arts, I've done a lot of stretching. Early on in my training, I stretched prior to the workout, now I do it as a dynamic stretch as I increase the intensity of the technique. With running, I've never stretched, just start slow and speed up as I warm up. Even in races, this way I can pass the slower people :-)
    Some people just feel good while stretching. I hate those people!

    One last thing, I know a professional ballerina who started at age 4 and is now 45. We were talking recently about how she warms up for a performance. When she was younger, she said she did a full, long stretching routine prior to dancing. Then she said, "Now I do this and this (two or three little movements) and I'm good to go!" I REALLY hate her :-)

    Dr. J

  6. I'm excused? OK! (pours coffee)

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  7. I don't stretch nearly as much as I should-- mainly just after my Saturday long run, with a perfunctory calf or hamstring stretch or two during the week.

    Oddly, I've had fewer problems with my running since I quit stretching so much, but I hesitate to ascribe to causation what may only be correlation.

    I've always been pretty darn flexible, though. I started ballet lessons at 4 and stuck with it for many, many years. I also was very into yoga for awhile. I would love to get back into it, if only the days were just a little longer so I could fit it into my schedule.

  8. I'm a Curves gym lady, and there we stretch afterward (holding each stretch for 15 seconds).

    When I walk, I stretch before and after. But if I miss the before (trying to get out the door quickly), I feel fine if I still stretch after. Oh, and I just use the Curves stretches and hold for 15 seconds. I like routine!

  9. Stretching is extremely important to me -- not so much when I'm working out, but when I'm working. I sit in an office and stare at a computer for hours at a time without getting up and moving around.

    If I get up and stretch every hour or so, my body doesn't hurt. If I don't stretch... ouch!

    I figure anything that prevents pain is good for the body.

  10. I know that the latest research is saying, but I also know that when I do exercise {cough}, if I don't stretch before and after, I pay for it dearly.

    Re the yoga: that's reason number 234,234,999 I want a Wii Fit.

    I should put out an ad, "will review Wii Fit..." ;-)

  11. I stretch but I'm sooooo guilty of the "I'll do it later" thing when I'm short of timein the morning after my run. Sadly, just about anything beats exercise for me in the evenings.

  12. I always stretch after cardio and then off and on during lifting. I just started running in January and I was terrified that I would be woken up in the middle of the night with cramps. However, I haven't even had much soreness in my legs, let alone cramping, which I completely credit stretching for (and the banana I eat every morning). My hubby doesn't stretch and he is always sore and crampy.

  13. He says relative flexibility is a key: often when one joint is too tight, the adjacent joint is too flexible. "The key is to try and stabilize what is too loose and release what is too tight."

    Ah. This would explain why I tend to walk out of yoga class like I just did a couple of shots of tequila. It should also be noted that I do the wussy yoga for beginners and balanced challenged.

    I've found that if I warm up first, and stretch and then do regular work out type things, like they make us do in the aerobic classes at my Y, I might be able to kick higher in kickboxing, but cardio-wise, it doesn't seem to affect my work out too much. However, if I don't adequately stretch out after, I, like Marijke, tend to pay for it dearly.

  14. Ok, I'm one of those "yoga people," I admit it. I really want to try upside-down-duck-looking-for-ants pose! I've never attempted that one, but I'm quite familiar with oh-please-oh-please-oh-please!get
    me-out-of-this- pose.

    Actually, having two young kids who tend to run really fast in two separate directions has made stretching a necessity for me. You know that game where people ask you which superpower you'd want if you could have one? I used to say "flying," but now I wish I had Mrs. Incredible's super-stretchy limbs. It would make life a whole lot easier (and really freak out the other moms at school!).

  15. When I took my aerobics instructor certification four years ago, they stressed warming up, then doing a dynamic stretch, and ending with a static stretch. If you start with a static stretch when your muscles are cold, it can put a lot of stress on cold muscles and could potentially cause injuries.

    Now, however, I just skip the dynamic warmup. I feel like (and have heard from some other quarters) that the dynamic stretch brings the heart rate down too far. So I do a basic warmup, the cardio, then finish with a static stretch.

    I find stretching to definitely be important. It doesn't necessarily prevent me from being sore, but it just feels really good! Also, I think that it helps the muscles not bunch quite so tightly (I tend to put all my stress into my neck and back and if I don't stretch, I end up with weekly chiropractor sessions).

    But everyone is different, and it's important to remember that!

  16. Stretching is wonderful. It feels so good! I love the point you make about ignoring research and just listening to your body, too- what works for one person won't necessarily work for the next person. It helps to always be a little bit skeptical of the latest research!

  17. It's 2 schools of thought. I dont stretch when I lift anymore. I get my stretching in when I perform my warm ups reps.

    I do stretch when I am going to perform cardio.

  18. This is very cool, finding out how differently everyone handles the stretching thing. Of course this morning I went off for a beach run and then was running late and, um, didn't have time for stretching but I swear this afternoon for sure...

    And some of you are way ahead of me on the dynamic stretching. I didn't even get that it was an option.

  19. Bottom line, stretch=good - even if it's just backing away from your computer and moving around during the day.

    Also great point on balancing flexibility and stability - it is very true that injuries happen to people that are too flexible as well!

    Learning to stretch correctly is something you'll always have. As you get older, higher impact exercise might become unavailable but you will always be able to stretch.

  20. Stretching is my favorite part of my workout too! One more thought on stretching: according to some people, stretching a muscle immediately after working it (say stretching your quads right after doing your squats) makes longer leaner muscles than not stretching. At least that's the theory! I'm testing it out this month for my "experiment" - I'll let you know if it holds true for me or any of my other guinea pigs!

  21. It's stretching day in blogland! The Bag Lady loves to stretch, and should do more of it. She, like Bunnygirl, took ballet lessons for many years, and fondly remembers the days when she could put her foot behind her head...sigh.

  22. I've had some extremely uncomfortable connective tissues issues which have improved vastly with stretching (and cutting out Aspartame, but that's another story) before, after and even without excercise. I fully believe it does good things for the body.

  23. i HATE stretching - i feel like it's such a waste of time! but the more i start to up my cardio, the more i've noticed my neck and shoulders are sore, usually in the morning. maybe i should actually start doing some stretching.

  24. I do Yoga when I remember to. But I stretch every day, I guess some of them are dynamic - I just didn't know that.


    just back from a Jewish Pilgrimage to see family (passover) and preposted my stuff for today and it's STRETCHING.

    love you guys as our great minds always think (ok this one time thought) alike.


    dare I say youre way more comprehensive?


  26. Love hearing from people who actually KNOW something about the subject!

    And Mizfit--you were way more clear than I was. Funny coincidence though.

  27. News Flash: BBC News has taken to imitating Cranky Fitness and Mizfit blogs:

    Their latest article:

    Menstrual cycle injury risk link

    Lead researcher Dr Stephen Sandler, an experienced osteopath, said: "There was a clear link between hormone levels and laxity of joints, making women more vulnerable to injury."

  28. I do static stretching right after a run, when everything is nice and warm. Well most of the time anyways, sometimes I'm in a hurry and just shower and get on with life. The warm shower loosens you up right?

    I also use a foam roller in front of the tv at night, while not really stretching, it does make me more flexible, and gets rid of muscle soreness.

  29. thanks Merry for the link!

    And welcome back Noah!!! Still flying around the world? (Assuming this is the same Noah and I didn't just make an ass of myself.)

  30. You're likely out of balance if you are tighter in one direction (for example in twists), one pants leg or sleeve always seems "longer", and if you stand (horrors, not you, *me*) in front of a mirror naked, one shoulder (or hip or knee) seems higher or more forward or back. I am way out of balance (I was going to say unbalanced, ahem). I think it started with a bad knee which tends to buckle slightly and which I was not really aware. Something like this can throw everything else off, all the way up and down the body, which then tends to rebalance itself over time to compensate, which can cause tightness, pain, injury, and joint wear. Many old injuries cause similar problems. It may be your back that's sore, but the cause is that your hip flexors are tight, as another example.

  31. I use to hate stretching...
    I have now started a yoga dvd and I love it. It was funny at first...thank god I do it at home...but I do feel better


  32. I found you while surfing through other diaries. Loved this, I needed the chuckle today. I stretch before and after exercising.

    I'm bookmarking you & returning. The humor is needed when you're trying to focus on being healthy. Thank you!

  33. Same old me! Still flying around the world (but lately mostly Athens, Rome, Milan, and the dreaded London Heathrow).

  34. Stretching.
    Well, I'm not crazy about it, but I do it.

    Since my relationship with yoga is totally on-again off-again, I can't really claim to be a particularly limber person either...I should probably do it more...

    btw- I really did laugh out loud at

    "Hungry Snake On a Mountain or Upside Down Duck Looking for Bugs"

    ok I'm still laughing actually...

    ps this is katieo. I'm too lazy to go switch my login.

  35. Speaking of the supine couch stretch, why would I want a cat anywhere near my Ben & Jerry's? He (or she) might try to eat the ice cream while I was doing this tedious stretching routine.

    Seriously (no, wait, that was serious), I stretch after I run. It helps keep my back from hurting, stretches out my tight hamstring and calf muscles, keeps my Achilles tendons supple, and is a great way to cool down. The only time I stretch before a run is before a race and, even then, I've usually done some warmup strides -- mostly, though, it's to look cool and intimidate the competition (as if!).

  36. I love stretching...it's my reward for being a good runner and not quitting.
    Having said that though...in training for a 10K race I have to keep getting up earlier and earlier to get my full run in and the stretching takes about 10 minutes...it's so temptiing to skip it and hit snooze!
    This morning I did that...I can already feel a bit stiff in my knees. I suppose I'll have to stretch later. But does that do as much good as stretching right after a workout I wonder?

  37. I love stretching. I'm very on-again, off-again with exercise in general, and usually when I'm fed up with an "off" phase, the first thing I'll do is just stretch for a couple of days, before trying to get back into a full-blown Exercise Routine. Like 99.9% of the people in America, I spend my days sitting at a desk, so my lower body and back get really stiff and it feels so good just to find I can still move. (Come to think of it, if I keep having these "off" phases with exercise, someday I might find I *can't* move anymore...)

  38. Thanks for giving us some great stretches to try! I just created a playlist to encourage everyone to spend 20 minutes stretching--it's such an important part of a fitness program! Here's a link to the playlist: http://www.jivafit.com/2008/04/22/jiva-jam-stretching/


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