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.)
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
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.
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
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?