The truth about stretching muscles

A question for people with sport physio knowledge. This article from NYTimes explains that stretching muscles before exercise - the ones where you hold for 20-30 seconds, is actually bad for you.

Prior to sport I have been doing these static stretches - e.g. hold leg stretched for 30 seconds. This is what my TaeKwonDo instructor and physiotherapist* say to do.

So what is your take on this?
Do you agree with the article?

Every time I read something about stretching, new research seems to change the accepted view.

From above link: “If you’re like most of us, you were taught the importance of warm-up exercises back in grade school, and you’ve likely continued with pretty much the same routine ever since. Science, however, has moved on. Researchers now believe that some of the more entrenched elements of many athletes’ warm-up regimens are not only a waste of time but actually bad for you. The old presumption that holding a stretch for 20 to 30 seconds — known as static stretching — primes muscles for a workout is dead wrong. It actually weakens them.” - NY Times

  • Physio needed for recent muscular injury - resulting from insufficient flexibility - hmmm

Well, I do know that if you don’t stretch, you end up with the worst case of aches the day after.
-Tabby, who is occasionally too lazy to do stretching even after waking up barely able to move one too many times…

Interesting article, can only relate it to my experience of sports I’ve done (semi)-seriously, which are cycling, weight-lifting, Kung-Fu and football. I never found stretching to be that important for the first two, and in fact never bother(ed). It’s a very interesting question for the second two, though, whether to stretch.

For the martial arts, e.g the Taekwondo mentioned in the OP, you’ve got the issue split in two: Whether to stretch as some sort of warm-up, preparatory exercise; and whether to stretch to train your muscles to actually perform the art. Flexible, ‘stretchy’ legs where essential to the Kung Fu style I did, and we spent about 15 mins before every class doing very deep stretches of the hamstrings, groin, hip / lower back. A beginner will generally not be able to perform the kicks in these sort of martial arts because they’re too inflexible. So I think the idea of stretching before martial arts is distinct from just warming up.

Football is another sport where static stretches of the hamstrings, groin and quads are very common in warm-ups. You’ll see people doing them up and down the country every Saturday on every park in the UK, as well as at the pro level in the stadiums. I don’t know what the answer is here. I do know that football is the home of groin strains and hamstring tears, running at pace with the ball, constantly changing direction, places huge stresses on the legs. I was always taught that static stretches would help prevent these type of strains, although we did dynamic stretches as well.

One thing that mitigates against the ‘no static stretching’ ideas of the OP’s article is that the quality and expertise of football coaching in the UK is high, and warming players up in wet, cold and windy conditions is a fundamental part of the trade. The prevalence of static stretching in football leads me to think that it’s been observed as an effective practice.

A lot of coaches do what they do because that’s what they’ve always done, not because there’s actually any demonstrated benefit to it. Yes, static stretching is a lousy warm up. That’s been known for a while in the more scientific end of the fitness community, but seems to have taken a while to filter down. Mobility drills are much better.

I’ve stopped stretching prior to (weight) training, after a couple of years being bombarded with reputable claims that it hinders strength performance and actually increases injury risk (too busy to dig up cites, but noted strength coach C. Thibedeau for one, makes this point in many of his articles). So far I can tell that not stretching before intense lifting has not increased my injuries or prevented strength gains. Just one tedious step less to do before the fun begins.

I read an article last year where the Australian army tested its recruits. Half did stretching exercises before they worked them out, half did not. Results were ,no difference in injuries or pulls.

Was reading an article yesterday, while stuck in a boring spot, about how Dana Torres, the over 40 Olympic swimmer, used “resistance stretching” to strengthen her muscles. The idea was to do a stretch and tighten the muscle during the stretch. Some of this could be done solo, with stretching bands and such, and some required a partner/trainer. That sound almost like the old “dynamic tension” or isometric exercises that were once sold by Charles Atlas.

Warming up is still a good idea, but the emphasis should not be on stretching. Further, it is hard to control for all the variables in YOUR stretching routine (‘oh, stretching never hurt me’) vs. other stretching routines that might have been studied.

The type of workout you are about to engage in is also important. Stretching aggressively during warm up which is followed by an intense resistance program with high weights forcing low-rep failure might be the real concern, whereas anecdotal evidence of success might only be based on light stretching with a modest to fairly-aggressive workout.

The last time I instructed a TKD class, we warmed up prior to class starting. Nothing hard, just throw around some kicks and work on forms and technique, about 5-10 mins before class started, more if you showed up earlier. Then when class started, I led stretching for a minimum of 12 mins, but more like 15 average.

Thomas Kurz has a good book ‘Stretching Scientifically’ that explains a bit of the research behind developing flexibility, and provides good practical exercises and programs.

The short version is what everyone in this thread has been saying - static stretching does not make a good warmup. Warmups (activities other than static stretching) are still an essential part of preventing injuries. If you want to develop increased static flexibility, post workout is the best time for the long, slow stretches.

Depends on the length and intensity of the workout. I’ve found after a long run my legs were too stiff and inflamed to stretch well plus further inflaming the tendons by the next day. I would get the best stretch by running for 5-10 min before stretching.

That’s because people keep reporting science news with headlines like the title you gave this thread (no offense): The Truth!

It’s not the Truth. It’s the latest research. Science is about the search for knowledge, not cutting it in stone. Every research report I’ve ever read on any subject that was the least bit valid has included among its conclusions the statment, “more research needs to be done to verify these results.” Stretching before a workout is bad according to this and many other articles on the net.

That’s an excellent point. If you’re seeking to develop flexibility it should be planned into or the focus of the workout you conduct. Certain types of stretching (the long static stretches) aren’t beneficial to preventing injury as a warmup or cool down, and in some cases may increase risk. The book I mentioned above has excellent advice regarding this, I’m just serving as a poor filter :).