On a regular basis I have athletes ask me for this and that reason what stretches they should be doing to fix whatever problem they might have. My hamstrings “feel” tight, I need to get ready for the game, I have a headache, my girlfriend broke up with me, the list is endless. Seriously, if I didn’t know any better I would think athletes assume that stretching cures everything. Unfortunately this is sometimes the farthest thing from the truth. I do not know how we got to the point that stretching, and when I say stretching I am referring to static stretching, became the go to fix for literally everything. Due to this stretching obsession everyone seems to have I would like to shed some light onto when using stretching might not be the best option.
1. When you stretch, you are not actually stretching the muscle as many would think. You are actually stretching the fascia. The fascia can be thought of as a glove that surrounds the muscle. Overtime the fascia can become stiff and form adhesions. If this stiffness and possible adhesions are not addressed through some form of soft tissue work stretching will cause more problems than solutions. Imagine picking up a stiff, knotted up rubber band and then beginning to stretch it. The stiffness might go away, but there is a greater chance of something tearing and those knots becoming tighter. If you were to perform a stretch in this scenario it might feel good, but it is definitely not going to last.
2. I do not need hypermobile female athletes asking me what stretches they should be doing. If you can put you leg behind your head, straighten your elbows or knees pass 180◦, or any other manipulation of your body please do not ask me what stretches you should be doing. Ask me what stability exercises you should be doing. This is a prime example of someone that should not be stretching.
3. This next point is more specific to an athletic population that insists they need to stretch their hamstrings because they feel tight. Many athletes, especially hockey players, find themselves in an anterior pelvic tilt which places the hips in a forwardly rotated position. This “stretches” or pulls their hamstrings into a lengthened position where the hamstrings always feel like they are on. Stretching the hamstrings in this situation will do more harm than good. Again it might feel good to stretch them, but it will be detrimental to the athlete in the long run. An anterior pelvic tilt in an athletic population is usually caused from tight or short hip flexors on the front of the thigh. Soft tissue work and stretching the hip flexors will help in many cases.
4. The final point is not necessarily why you shouldn’t stretch, but a suggestion to perform a proper dynamic mobility and movement protocol instead. If this is followed and when I say followed I mean consistently followed every day, then stretching would not be needed for almost any reason. Are most people going to put sometime aside to do this every day, not usually, but if they did say goodbye to stretching forever!
I hope this shed some light on why you should not just blindly accept stretching as the fix to any and everything.
SPU's Alex Drayson and Matt Migiano write the SPU Athletic Performance Blog.
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