Read: “Stretching Is Overrated”

August 27, 2014 – 12:20 pm | Permalink | Coaching, Media, Training and Racing, Yoga

istolethetv/Flickr

I’m quoted in this nice piece in The Atlantic: “Stretching Is Overrated.” Despite its sensationalist title, it’s about pre-exercise static stretching being overrated, not stretching in general (although we could have that argument, too). As I told Ian, there’s certainly such a thing as too much flexibility; at some point stretching can become gratuitous. For my usual population of endurance athletes and others who either sit at desks or engage in repetitive movements, too much flexibility is rarely the problem.

Read the story here.

One Comment

  1. leslie
    Posted September 4, 2014 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    I find it irresponsible of the author and The Atlantic to allow the primary message of this article to be that stretching is overrated, does not prevent injury, and can cause injury. I’m pretty sure that anyone who has trained in any sport over the last 20 years has gotten the messages that warming up the muscles is beneficial and that static stretching of cold muscles is not a good idea. As Sage Rountree points out, there are also risks associated with over-stretching or developing too much flexibility. However, as I’ve learned from Sage in her Yoga for Athletes classes, efforts to develop and maintain appropriate and balanced flexibility cannot be underrated. One critical concept that is missed in the article is the distinction between short-term and long-term benefits. It should not be surprising that scientific studies find that a tighter, unstretched muscle can generate more power in the short term than a stretched (or certainly over-stretched) muscle – hence the finding that one may race faster without stretching than with static stretching before an all-out effort. But what about the long-term effects of ignoring stretching and failing to lengthen muscles? Having been an avid runner for the past 40 years, I’ve seen many older runners who never stretched. Over time their hamstrings shortened and were repeatedly strained. Perhaps in the short term these folks were able to run fast with their tight, powerful muscles. However, the long term effect is severely limited stride length – certainly not consistent with a high level of performance, and often leading to a constant battle with associated injuries. But let’s be clear that maintaining flexibility isn’t just important for aging athletes. My 11-year-old daughter is a competitive year-round swimmer. She also plays tennis, and during her recent 3-week break between swim seasons she stepped up her training on the tennis court, including spending a lot of time working on her serve. After swim practice last night she came home and talked about how she has noticed that when she swims her freestyle she’s not getting the same extension on her reach (recovery part of the stroke) with her right arm that she gets with her left arm. She recognized that the cause was the tightness in her right shoulder from all her work on her serve (and likely the rest of her game as well). I am also a right-handed tennis player and showed her the effects of the sport on my left-to-right flexibility – reaching my left hand behind me and then up my back I can get the tips of the fingers on my left hand all the way to the back of my neck; with my right hand I can barely reach to my left shoulder blade. We then talked about the importance of working to maintain balanced flexibility. Yes – we want to develop strength and there is a significant correlation between strength and tightness of our muscles. But if we don’t pay attention to maintaining appropriate and balanced flexibility, we lose length and extension in our stride or our stroke, negatively impacting our performance and also putting us at risk of injury in the long term. Remember, training isn’t about putting out a top performance on training day. Training should instead have a longer term focus on developing a whole-body balance of strength and flexibility that allow for peak performance on race day or in competition… and that allow us to continue to train and compete without injury over the long run.