Traditional stretching doesn't help, studies find

Jul 06, 2009 By Cynthia Billhartz Gregorian

Arvelle White lifts weights three or four times a week. Before he even looks at a dumbbell, though, he hops on a treadmill and runs for 20 minutes.

When asked if he stretches first, White, 33, of Pasadena Hills, Mo., said no.

"But I probably should," he added, sheepishly.

As it turns out, White has been doing things right.

In 2004, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reviewed 361 research studies done by the epidemiology program office and found no evidence that stretching before or after exercise prevents injury or muscle soreness. Specifically, they were looking at traditional stretching, also known as static stretching, which involves holding a stretched pose for several seconds or more. Think splits or toe touches.

Dr. William Meller, an internist in Santa Barbara, Calif., believes we can study our ancestors from the Stone Age to figure out what's good for us and what's not. Basking in the sun -- for vitamin D -- and eating red meat -- for protein -- are good, Meller says.

Stretching before rigorous exercise is not.

"Can you imagine a caveman engaging in a program of stretching before heading out to chase down prey?" he asks in his recent book, "Evolution Rx: A Practical Guide to Harnessing Our Innate Capacity for Health and Healing."

Some sports medicine experts, such as Dr. Herbert Haupt, of Orthopedic Associates in Des Peres, say static stretching inhibits performance and might even cause micro-tears in tendons, ligaments and .

"We recommend light stretching only after warming up," Haupt says.

Despite such mounting evidence, the traditional form of stretching before exercise is still popular.

Nick Akers, certified personal trainer with Fitness Factory in St. Louis, says he sees members at the downtown gym stretching before their workout all the time. And he often has to convince his one-on-one clients not to do it.

"It's old school," he says. "I tell them they can relax their muscles so much that their neurons aren't firing."

Akers and other sports medicine experts say that dynamic stretching before exercise is the way to go. And you do it by moving through stretches without pausing or holding a position.

You can also warm up, says Haupt, by doing your exercise at half the speed. For instance, runners would start with a slow jog and build speed. A pitcher could rotate her arms in a pitching motion and lob balls softly.

Eileen McAllister, head strength and conditioning coach at SIU Edwardsville, says a weekend warrior getting ready to play a team sport might want to spend pre-game time jogging briefly, skipping while swinging his arms and doing grapevine-crossover steps.

"They can also do a sideways shuffle to work in more planes than just forward, or walking forward while grabbing the knee toward the chest," she says.

Coaches and trainers at SIUE quit instructing athletes to do static stretches before working out or competing about five years ago, McAllister says. "Studies have shown that it decreases power and speed."

Haupt says it can be especially detrimental to athletes recovering from injuries.

"People who do suffer a strain think they'll stretch it out, but they end up making it worse," Haupt says.

"What they should do is give it some rest, avoid reloading it until it's recuperated, then work on strengthening it."

That's not to say that static stretching doesn't have any benefits.

Dr. Scott Kaar, orthopedic surgeon and director of SLUCare's program, says stretching every day for three months would make a person more flexible. And, he says, there's evidence that it helps certain conditions.

"For instance with plantar fasciitis, stretching the calf will help and we know that for sure," he says, referring to pain and inflammation of the plantar fascia, a thick band of tissue that runs from the heel bone to the toes.

Haupt adds that it's vital for senior athletes to do traditional stretching but only after their main workout.

"Stretching is fundamentally important for the muscles around the joint to minimize arthritis and degeneration," he says. "And stretching after prolonged exercise for any athlete helps reduce lactic acid accumulation when you've really exercised the muscle."

___

(c) 2009, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Visit the Post-Dispatch on the World Wide Web at www.stltoday.com/
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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User comments : 9

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brentrobot
not rated yet Jul 07, 2009
Ha! I have for years thought stretching before exercise was stupid. If it was beneficial in any way, evolution would have made it feel good.
SurDin
5 / 5 (1) Jul 07, 2009
That is so un-true!

First of all, the article is self-contradicting:"'Stretching is fundamentally important for the muscles around the joint to minimize arthritis and degeneration,' he says. 'And stretching after prolonged exercise for any athlete helps reduce lactic acid accumulation when you've really exercised the muscle.'"

Lactic acid accumulation is the main cause for muscle soreness after exercising, and that is exactly the prupose of streching, to avoid accumulation of it inside the muscles. If it does that, than our purpose is achieved.



Second, I've been a medic in the army for 2 years, and I've exercise for about 8 years, now. I haven't done exact statistics on the subject, but from personal experience, and the facts that I've seen during my service, stretching after exercising is exactly the thing that makes a difference between sore muscles and no sore muscles.

The problem is that many people don't stretch correctly, like making small and fast motions during the stretching which can make micro-tears in the muscle tissue and cause injury. It also affects the muscle much more if the muscle isn't warmed up, and then the benefit of stretching before exercising is much less obvious when compared to the possible harm.

Soylent
not rated yet Jul 07, 2009
Lactic acid accumulation is the main cause for muscle soreness after exercising, and that is exactly the prupose of streching, to avoid accumulation of it inside the muscles. If it does that, than our purpose is achieved.


The cause of muscle soreness is damage to the muscle, not lactic acid. Lactic acid accumulation is not a measured phenomenon, merely a hypothesis.
otto1923
not rated yet Jul 07, 2009
I stretch before running because it feels good to do so. Why else? I can imagine the caveman waking up in the morning, stretching, scratching his hairy belly and then squatting to survey the landscape and sniff the air. By the time he and his buds take off after prey they're very limber. They stretch after they stand up from their huddle. If we squatted more maybe we wouldn't feel the need to stretch as much.
bmcghie
not rated yet Jul 07, 2009
^ Good point. As for lactic acid... people often confuse the burn it generates as the muscles fatigue under power as also being responsible for the burning pain that accompanies an overused and stressed muscle. The prolonged muscle burning when it is not in use, the soreness, is not due to lactic acid, but merely the pain you feel because the muscle has microtears along its length.

Traditional stretching only seems to work from some people's perspective due to the fact that you are warming up the muscles. It has nothing to do with increasing their range of motion before a workout, you are instead contracting them, and increasing blood flow. This does make a big difference when you start working out, and decreases the chance of a cramp in the muscle, that may occur due to waste product accumulation.
BigTone
not rated yet Jul 07, 2009
Did anyone dig deeper to see if they were controlling for fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers? If so, how did they determine the percentages of each fiber type in the individual and what was the established baseline for a typical or normal person? With so many different body builds and athletic performance capabilities, I am having a hard time with any one size fits all recommendation...
GregHight
not rated yet Jul 07, 2009
I would think that the benefits of streatching before and after excercising would be two separate subjects all together.

If you use caveman theory, streatching after excercise should be beneficial because it feels good to streatch sore muscles after a workout.
jimbo92107
not rated yet Jul 11, 2009
Pro tennis player Andre Agassi never did static stretching. He ran a lot.
frogz
not rated yet Jul 13, 2009
That is so un-true!



First of all, the article is self-contradicting:"'Stretching is fundamentally important for the muscles around the joint to minimize arthritis and degeneration,' he says. 'And stretching after prolonged exercise for any athlete helps reduce lactic acid accumulation when you've really exercised the muscle.'"



Lactic acid accumulation is the main cause for muscle soreness after exercising, and that is exactly the prupose of streching, to avoid accumulation of it inside the muscles. If it does that, than our purpose is achieved.







Second, I've been a medic in the army for 2 years, and I've exercise for about 8 years, now. I haven't done exact statistics on the subject, but from personal experience, and the facts that I've seen during my service, stretching after exercising is exactly the thing that makes a difference between sore muscles and no sore muscles.



The problem is that many people don't stretch correctly, like making small and fast motions during the stretching which can make micro-tears in the muscle tissue and cause injury. It also affects the muscle much more if the muscle isn't warmed up, and then the benefit of stretching before exercising is much less obvious when compared to the possible harm.





The article is just fine and the acid can be removed and reduced by warm up/cool down cardio exercises better than any stretching. Static stretching should be done separate from any work out as a way to increase flexibility and as a replacement for a workout session when time and or the environment does not permit the standard work outs.

No offense intended toward your personal experiences on this subject, but sore muscles after a good work out are a desired status if you're looking to gain from the exercise sessions. Ask anyone that's ever done body building/power lifting.
No pain, no gain.