Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Stretching Advice

Remember how so much of what I learned as a child about dinosaurs is wrong?  Now for something completely different (but along that same theme)...

People my age have mostly learned erroneous information about stretching.

Static stretching is important.  It has important uses.  But is easy to do badly.  For example, the traditional two-arm door frame stretch of the pectoralis major muscle can harm the shoulder capsule.  Better to stretch one arm at a time with the shoulder as close to the door frame as possible to minimize backwards torque on the arm.

The Stark Reality of Stretching was a landmark book about how muscle tissue functions and what this implies about stretching.  That book is certainly worth checking out from the library, or owning if you do daily stretching.  (A few of my friends also swear by Pain Free.)  But be aware that the book has three big flaws.

First, it only discusses a few lower body muscles.  The book does not even try to be a complete guide to daily stretching.

Second, it ignores that the amount of muscle tension helpful when stretching varies from person to person.  Stark recommends holding an appropriate static stretch with minimal perceived tension until the muscle relaxes: if you want, repeat it with more stretch rather than start with greater tension.  That is safe advice for someone in therapy and the best way to stretch for many folks.  But lots of people can stretch well with more-than-minimal tension.

Third, it ignores dynamic stretching.  For non-athletes this is a minor issue.  Dynamic stretching surely has its place as warm-ups for athletic activity, but I have not read anything suggesting it helps with "normal life" posture and flexibility as much as (let alone any more than) static stretching.

No comments: