Saturday, October 4, 2014

Shocking News about Stretching!

I like to arrive a little early to the barre. If I'm flying in at the last minute, it stresses me out and I fear stress might inhibit my lovely post-class lala feeling. I don't like to do anything that might jeopardize the lalas. But then, of course, I'm just kind of hanging out... waiting for class to start... so historically, I've stretched to pass those few minutes, thinking I was doing something oh-so-beneficial for my body.

Lots of people stretch before exercise. When I first started formal exercise back in the early 1990's, you did a little warm-up, then you stretched. It was the done thing. By 'warm-up,' I mean a little bit of movement, and by 'stretching,' I mean the static kind--you assume a position (like bending to touch your toes) and hold there for 20-30 seconds. Stretching cold muscles was always a no-no, but since I'm usually moving quite briskly so I can get to class EARLY, I consider myself 'warm.' Yes, I play the hurry-up-and-wait game.

However, I recently read a few articles casting aspersions on this sacred cow of pre-workout stretching.
Well. This rocked my world. Clearly. So I did a little exhaustive internet researchtm.

I'm a huge fan of stretching and there are some very good reasons for it--maybe the best one being the Dr. Wayne Westcott study that indicated people see 20% greater strength gains for having stretched muscles after working them.

But that's post-workout stretching, which is a different animal from the I'm-just-hanging-out-early-at-the-barre kind. A few studies (here and here) have indicated that pre-workout or -competition stretching actually resulted in reduced performance. Athletes who stretched beforehand showed a temporary decrease in strength. The whys of this aren't really known, but study authors suggest the loosening nature of stretching made the athletes wobblier. That's a totally official scientific term, by the way.

It should be noted that holding stretches for more than 45 seconds is what seemed to inhibit strength--anything less than that didn't seem to affect it significantly.

There is a fair bit of conjecture about stretching in general. It is kind of toughie to research. As noted in one article I read, you can hardly do a randomized/double-blind study on stretching. People will figure out if they're in the stretching group or not, you know? I found some articles (like this one) that seemed to suggest stretching at any point in a workout might be of little benefit, but I can't get behind that. Stretching does restore optimal length to muscle, if only temporarily. The jury seems to be out as to whether or not it reduces delayed-onset muscle soreness or helps prevent injury, but it certainly feels good and helps with lalas. I should mention that no barre class I have ever taken has employed long-duration static stretching as part of the warm-up. The stretches always follow working the muscle to shaking, burning bliss.

So should you completely avoid the pre-workout stretch? From the former study, "We conclude that the usage of SS [static stretching] as the sole activity during warm-up routine should generally be avoided."

Well, harumph. I guess this leaves me with taking selfies to fill the time.

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