I’ve been splitting time on Facebook between stalking my girlfriend (hi babe!) and posting about stretching. It’s a topic that’s generated a lot of attention on my Facebook page (the stretching) starting with a post on why stretching doesn’t help prevent muscle cramps. Then it spiraled into hate mail on my Facebook inbox from yogis and other proponents of stretching.
I’m not saying stretching doesn’t work, all I’m saying is that what we know about how muscles stretch is completely inaccurate.
What we do know about stretching:
It helps increase joint range of motion
Decreases risk of injury
Helps correct muscle imbalances
Great for soft tissue quality and health
What we don’t know:
Stretching decreases muscle cramping
The architecture of the muscle is not actually changing during stretching
I’m going to address number 1 by citing a piece of current research I love and trying to geek it down to the best of my ability:
Golgi tendon organ reflex inhibition following manually applied acute static stretching, by Miller and Burne, in Journal of Sports Sciences, 2014
The golgi tendon organ is a receptor in your muscle that detects the rate of length change in muscle. When it has any dysfunction and cannot detect the rate of length change, it can induce muscle cramping. The golgi tendon organ is thought to better it’s ability to detect rate change through static stretching.
The whole paper above basically picked that apart and concluded that the golgi tendon organ is NOT effected by static stretching.
On to myth number 2 about stretching, and this is something that first came to my attention back in 2011 when Tony Gentilcore (tonygentilcore.com) pointed out that you’d have to violate the rules of physiology to actually make a muscle longer. Basically you’d have to increase the number of sarcomeres in order to make the muscle longer. If you didn’t understand that, don’t worry because I’m going to go into a bit more detail on why the muscles can’t actually stretch.
Increased range of motion after static stretching is not due to changes in muscle and tendon structures, by Konrad and Tilp, in Clinical Biomechanics, 2014
In this study, the authors (one of which spelled his last name wrong) concluded that a 6 week static stretching program significantly increased range of motion, BUT it did not have any effect on the underlying muscle or tendon structures.
So what accounted for this change in range of motion???
Your body’s tolerance to allow your body to go into a new range of motion is what really changes!
So if anyone tells you stretching will give you long lean sexy muscles (ahem Tracy Anderson), think twice about what the real message they are trying to convey is.
Go on and do your yoga! Just make sure you don’t eat a bunch of broccoli or cauliflower ahead of time.