Stretching Myths Busted!

Static stretching vs. Dynamic stretching

Walk into any gym or go out on the track and you will see people stretching. More often than not, they are making their muscles slower and weaker!

Conventional stretching, for example, is to throw your leg on the fence and stretch out your hamstrings or do some toe touches etc. This form of stretching is called static stretching. Static stretching is an inefficient form of preparing muscles for activity.

With this being said, your muscles create the most force at an optimal length; thus, if you stretch them too far, they will be looser and will create less force ( there is a decrease in cross bridge connections as well). Normally, people are not interested in moving slower or being weaker so this is an immediate draw back.

Instead of doing static stretching, do thermogenic movements which imitate your specific activity in order to warm up your body i.e. cyclist warm-up with some nice and easy riding. Secondly, it is optimal to do some joint mobility to mobilize areas which will be used during activity i.e. if you are squatting you need to open up the hips and activate the abductors. Lastly, do stretches while in transit, aka dynamic stretching. This will force the nervous system to fire and use proprioception, balance, and coordination during the warm-up. Once the nervous system is ready, the joints are mobile, and the body is warm, it is time for safe and injury free activity!

To go into more detail as to how static stretching makes you weaker, we need to go into muscle function.

The muscles require actin and myosin overlap in order to create a connection or bridge which will create a pull or contraction when the muscle contracts. If you stretch the muscles to far apart, actin and myosin cannot bind optimally, conversely if actin and myosin overlap too much (tight muscles) the contraction will be weakened as well. A proper warm-up and dynamic stretching optimizes the overlap and creates the right length for the most force production.

This is brief overview of cross bridge cycling and the length tension relationship. The graph demonstrates the relationship.

Below, in the graph, actin are blue and myosin are the orange brush looking lines surrounded by blue, this is illustrating overlap and tension relationships. (a) Illustrates tight muscles. (b) is optimal resting length or optimal overlap and (c) is too much stretch often caused in static stretching.

Cramer, J. T., Housh, T. J., Johnson, G. O., Miller, J. M., Coburn, J. W., & Beck, T. W. (2004). ACUTE EFFECTS OF STATIC STRETCHING ON PEAK TORQUE IN WOMEN. Journal Of Strength & Conditioning Research (Allen Press Publishing Services Inc.)18(2), 236-241

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