Is Stretching Useful?

Stretching, huh yeah
What is it good for?
Well maybe something, oh hoh, oh

(Sorry for the bad song reference, it’s stretching it.)

Over the past year or so, and especially the last few months, I’ve been thinking about the concept of stretching and have read a number of research articles, summaries and books that address it.  The following summarizes my current thoughts about stretching and contains quotes from the article which provides the best explanation I’ve found of the most current research on stretching and its implications.  Link to it here and at the end of this blog entry.  It just might shake up your fitness and self-care world a bit and I highly recommend reading it.  

extreme flexibility, woman in severe hyperextension and flexion of lower limbs
Looks, uh…wow. (And painful, to get to that degree of flexibility anyway.) But what’s the point?
Yay, this feels good! An example of a more commonly performed stretch compared to the previous, extreme stretch.

First: useful for what?  Probably not for preventing injury, muscle soreness, warming up, performance and maybe even flexibility!  “Plentiful recent research now shows that stretching as we know it — the kind of typical stretching that the average person does at the gym, or even the kind of stretching that most athletes do — is mostly a waste of time for most commonly identified goals.”  Sorry folks (or maybe not–to many of you this could be a relief, one less thing on your to-do list) but the studies just don’t bear it out.  

This is not to say that stretching is pointless and has no benefits, and as for increasing flexibility it probably does, just not likely how we think it does.  “Muscle (probably) doesn’t change, especially in response to an average stretching regimen, but our willingness to elongate it probably does. …increasing flexibility may be more of a nervous system ‘hack’ than a matter of changing tissue.” Besides, unless you are a contortionist, ballet dancer, gymnast or in an acrobatic troupe (which is pretty much self-selected for unusual flexibility) there’s no real benefit to the body to being super flexible per se.  In addition, in the quest for this flexibility, people can, and often do, injure themselves.  Throw in some heat, repetition and the drive to achieve a certain position or amount of reach despite *warning signals* from the body (past the mild discomfort point and into “if I can just do this one more minute I will then feel so good!” zone) and you can easily approach injury of the muscle, tendon, ligament, or meniscus, in some cases.  There is a tradeoff of stability with increases in flexibility past the happy homeostatic balance of the two.

kitten stretching dynamically
Make like a kitty. This little fella is moving his body dynamically. Observe your pets.

“Woah!” you say, “Hold on a minute, stretching feels so good though, sometimes I just need to do it.”  Yes, it can feel really good and that is a fine reason to do it.  But, no need to do it past the feel-good.  I like to think of stretching, in its various forms, as a stimulation to the muscles, joints, other surrounding connective tissue and nervous system as healthy stimulation, part of a wide range a dynamic movement the body enjoys and sometimes craves.  Does this mean you should ditch stretching?  No, but maybe consider dispensing with a routine that feels regimented and when examined more carefully, isn’t really doing much for you.  If this is the case–yay!  Now you get to free yourself from that burden and have that much more time for something new.  

See the article I quoted from here Quite a Stretch

Disclaimer:  The information contained in this website, and links there from, are not to be construed as fact nor as medical advice.