I recently read an article entitled "Stretching is BS" on T-Nation.com. The gist of the article states
that based on the temporary physiological responses you receive from stretching, you're better off going through range of motion exercises to get loose and more mobile.
"Depending on the amount of stretching, viscoelasticity returns to baseline within about 10 minutes after two minutes of stretching; or 20 minutes after 4-8 minutes of stretching; or an hour after some seriously hardcore yoga," says Menno Henselmans, ISSA in the article
. "When you stretch a muscle, no permanent structural adaptations take place.
All you do with most stretching programs is teach the nervous system that it's okay to relax the muscle a bit more when stretched."
It makes perfect sense if you think about it. Stretching a muscle causes neurological adaptations that make it better at being stretched.
Ok, I buy into this from the theory perspective, however, I know first hand that stretching the psoas prior to glute work, has lead to more glute recruitment in what I've seen in my own workouts and those of my clients. So if that's the case, how can stretching be a waste of time?
If you can get one muscle to let go by stretching it so another one that is under utilized works better, then there is merit in the process. There are as many opinions on stretching as there are ways to stretch. Oh, and I still don't like most forms of yoga, so that hasn't changed.
We no longer stretch at the end of my group class sessions because we do dynamic range of motion work due to the fact most of the people go from moving for an hour to sitting for 8-10. Since there are 168 hours in a week, and see these people for only two of them, and I feel D-ROM will benefit them more. However, I don't discourage our members from doing it post class or on their own.
I stretch at night because it helps me relax. I stretch with my clients sometimes if I need try and work a kink out. There's a science behind stretching, but there is also a methodology to take into consideration.
There are three kinds of stretching: static (holding a stretch, low stability demand, low nervous system involvement), dynamic (moving the joints as you stretch higher stability demand and nervous system involvement) and eccentric stretching which is a combination of static and dynamic stretching.
According to Mike Robertson eccentric stretching:
"...combines some of the elements of static stretching (camping out in one position and holding), and some of the elements of dynamic stretching (nervous system recruitment, balance, stability, etc.)
In this case, you might set-up in the bottom of a split-squat, with your trailing leg knee just off the floor (Q&A: Is Static Stretching Good, Robertson Training Systems
Taking these three methods in to consideration, you need to ask yourself the following prior to starting a stretching program:
Why are you stretching? Do want to increase tissue length? Joint range of motion? Address muscle imbalance?
Depending on how you answer these questions, you will get your reason as to not only if you should stretch, but how you should do it. Remember, muscles tighten for a reason.
It could be a length tension issue from imbalances (if something lengthens too much, the opposing muscles will typically tighten in an attempt to maintain balance of some kind), could be repetitive stress (cycling, running, sitting, excessive rotation in one direction, etc), could be an injury or a whole host of other things.
If you've got tight hip flexors from weak glutes causing tight hamstrings, strengthening the glutes should be the primary goal to get the psoas muscles to let go. You DON'T want to stretch the hamstrings here. If you have excessive anterior tilt ("swayback"), stretching hammies that are already lengthened is counterproductive.
The psoas being tight causes an altering in the length tension relationship in the glutes causing them to lengthen and become under active. If you can wake them up, and restore normal function, the psoas will let get go without having to be stretched. Should you stretch them? You can but ONLY IF you are strengthening the glutes as well.
Like everything else in the conditioning world, stretching is a tool to be applied where necessary, and left alone when it isn't. If you're training someone who was a dancer or gymnist, stretching is the last thing you'd want them doing.
The reason being is they are already hyper mobile, and most likely pretty unstable in their joints. Strength training is what will benefit them the most.
Someone who has the flexibility of C3PO who can't get proper neural recruitment when they move should be stretching in an effort to restore tissue extensibility (the muscle's ability to lengthen) with low level joint range of motion exercises. It is more important to stretch the person out so the lengthened muscles "release" the opposing underactive muscle to work better.
The next time you're thinking about stretching, ask yourself why you're doing and what you want out of it and it will make the session much more effective. But make sure you read "The Five Worst Ways to Stretch"
to make sure you're doing it safely before you get going!