One of the biggest fitness controversies in recent years has involved stretching. Some pros now question whether static stretching – that is, stretching a muscle and holding the position – should be part of a fitness regime.
For years, conventional wisdom has stated that static stretches before and after exercise are absolutely necessary. These stretches are included on every workout sheet handed out at every major gym franchise. It’s widely believed that you should perform these movements to get your blood flowing and loosen yourself up.
But I believe that static stretching doesn’t really warm you up. In fact, due to your body’s defensive response, it might actually make you tighter and stiffer. In addition, if you take static stretching too far, it can lead to muscle strains and tears. Finally, your muscles and joints require a certain amount of stiffness to keep your body stable. When you stretch too much, you threaten this internal stabilization system.
Sure, some people who static stretch a lot can bend their bodies into all manner of shapes – but what’s the point? What does this do for you? Does it improve your fitness, health, or quality of life? The fact is, unless you’re a Cirque du Soleil performer, want to fit in a carry-on bag to save on airline tickets, or want to scratch an itch on your forehead with your big toe, you don’t need to be hyper-flexible.
So what’s the solution? How do we maintain and improve flexibility without overstretching? I preach what I call FIM, or “Flexibility in Movement,” which holds that if you want to be more agile, more limber, and generally more athletic, you should loosen up your body by stretching through a full range of motion. Do you really think that holding your leg, or worse, paying a trainer to hold your leg will make you more flexible? More likely, it will just kill some minutes of your workout.
Here’s what I recommend: Warm up in ways similar to the exercises you’re about to perform. Ease into these movements by using your body weight or weights lighter than the ones you’ll use during the actual sets. Gain flexibility through motion, not by striking a pose.
The old ways of training are just that – old. It’s time to look at what science and common sense teach us. I’m not suggesting that flexibility isn’t important – it is. But you can attain it in much better ways than static stretching.