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Is Stretching/Mobility Work Necessary?

There are two main reasons I’m asking this question.

  1. my husband has been lifting for 15 years now to my 4 and not ONCE has he been injured or strained something and he’s never done any stretching/mobility work. I on the other hand have dealt with many muscle strains and a shoulder injury and even had a coach for 3 out of those 4 years helping me with my form, etc.
  2. I’ve read several articles stating that stretching has more of a placebo effect as opposed to actually doing anything.

Thoughts? Advice?

My muscles are tight, I used to be limber. Stretching would help me with tightness if I were to consistently do it. My injuries have been to connective tissue versus muscles. So I don’t think stretching would have helped me there. And I’ve heard that too much stretching is bad when lifting heavy.

Pretty sure I didn’t answer your question!

I’m gonna drag @j4gga2 and @Koestrizer into this too, because they’ll probably have some good info.

The conventional way of thinking about stretching needs to die. Stretching is, at its essence, just a isometric contraction, which has been shown to lead to injury prevention through the strengthening of tendons and ligaments. Isometrics are also used by physios to rehab injuries all the time.

“Tightness” really has nothing to do with the muscles, it’s the nervous system slamming on the breaks because it doesn’t believe the body is strong enough in that range of motion.

Slowly breathing and relaxing into the end range of a “stretch” — which is really just a suuuuper slow eccentric, or isometric hold — followed by actively contracting out of the stretch, is a beneficial way to go about stretching. Actively contracting out of the stretch helps the nervous system believe it can actually achieve an extended ROM by building a little strength there. If possible, light to moderate load can also be used in a stretch to help facilitate this further.

What would one do for tightness then? If I feel some tightness in my chest from just sitting, that wouldn’t mean I’m in a bad ROM though if I’m literally just sitting, right? :woman_shrugging:

Well see, then would it even make sense to stretch if you’re trying to “stretch” during a certain lift to reach an extended ROM?

It depends. If you need more mobility for something or if stretching makes you feel better it can help. If you don’t need more mobility for a purpose, then no. More mobility without control in those areas is generally a recipe for injury FTR. If you have the mobility you need, and you use it regularly, I personally don’t think you need stretching or mobility work.

It may help for you to understand what tightness is. Tightness and inflexibility are mentally controlled. Literally, your mind is stopping you from going into a range of motion because it thinks it’s dangerous and it’s trying to protect something. If that’s the case, fixing/strengthening/repairing the issue can release the “tightness” over time. There may be something damaged in your shoulder/pec/tendons. Stretching might reduce the mental limit in your brain, but in that case it isn’t fixing the issue.

I know a lot of the tightness comes from just the way I sit throughout the day… but also, I tend to feel “tightness” in my lats that I think is due to them being weak since I haven’t worked out very consistently for a while.
In the moment if I stretch or foam roll them or do some type of mobility work for my upper body, it feels good, but within several hours or for sure by the next day it goes back to feeling “tight”. The only time that the tightness I feel has gone away for longer than that time (like several days) was after I did a back workout.

So mobility work for the upper body (like let’s say thoracic rotations for example) wouldn’t be beneficial at all?

Thanks for the tag @kdjohn.

Short answer: No, stretching is not necessary and it doesn’t prevent injury.
Does it still have applications? Yes it does.

First of all, anyone who claims to know how stretching exactly works (without a doubt) is lying as it hasn’t been proven yet.
The theory I find most convincing and to my knowledge, that the reaserch field is leaning towards is that stretching increases stretch tolerance (desensitization and increased pain tolerance).

The length of a muscle has nothing to do with tightness (exceptions include post op cases), it’s the nervous system that “creates” tightness as a protection mechanism to prevent the body from taking damage or because a certain structure within the system is not strong enough to do what is asked of it (as stated above already). So you don’t experience pain because of your posture or because a muscle is tight, you have a certain posture or tightness because you’re in pain and the nervous system limits range of motion of nearby structures because it detected a potential tissue damage.

Research has shown that stretching has no effect on injury prevention.
Research has shown that strength training is at least as effective to increase range of motion as stretching and mobility training.
Research has shown a potentially positive effect on cardiovascular health by stretching.

Agreed. Stuff like “you’re hip flexors are tight because you sit all day” is still WAY to commonly thrown around.
The human body is not a machine and shouldn’t be explained like one, using reductionist models.

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I am aware that saying “research has shown” without providing said research is pretty cheap but it is late and I often find that these discussions don’t really justify the hassle it takes to correctly quote said evidence.

Is improving mobility and stretching the same thing?
I’m getting to the point where I’m going to have to do something about my mobility.

I think, the stiffer and less mobile you are, the more you are likely to benefit from it, especially when it comes to to squats deadlifts and olympic lifts etc.

No, stretching and mobility work is not necessary. Done correctly, resistance training is mobility work, and mobility work is resistance training.

As my man @Koestrizer says here, no one is certain what tightness is, but

Is absolutely bang-on.

I also agree with @GorillaMon

The issue then becomes “how do I reduce tightness to improve daily comfort?”

As others have said, the easiest and simplest way is just to train, with certain considerations such as:

  • Maximise your range of motion on supplementary and assistance lifts. If you’re into the “big lifts” keep training them as usual, but bolster them with full-range exercises like deep RDLs; deep squats (usually with a heel lift) and split squats; slow chin-ups and pulldowns; deep push-ups, dips and dumbbell presses.
  • Slow your rep cadence; utilise slow(er) eccentrics and pauses
  • Train unilaterally and rotationally. Maximise benefits from exercises like single-arm DB rows by allowing your arm/shoulder to fully stretch and your ribcage to rotate. Use split squats (not necessarily bulgarians) with your knee pulled in in line with your big toe to keep mobility through the hip. Use lateral step-downs and calf raises to maintain mobility in your ankle etc.

Basically, if there is a range of motion you want to improve, you need to eccentrically load a muscle into that position. Start light, progress slowly and work from there.

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So as far as tightness, would you recommend just strengthening the area that feels “tight”? Especially since in the past after I lifted the tight area felt better, would that be a sign that I should continue to do that? Obviously as opposed to stretching that area?

In what circumstances would it even be beneficial besides post op? Not at all then?

I’d pretty much do what @j4gga2 outlined with an emphasis on this:

No I wouldn’t say so. I think there are legitimate applications. For example if you need to get into a specific range of motion that you’re currently not able to get into (think end range, for example overhead position), it would be benefitial to apply something like contract-relax stretching prior to the activity that requires that range of motion in order to execute it afterwards.
In the long run though, you would need to strengthen the specific position as outlied above.

Other applications for stretching include relaxation, generell well being, short term desensitization and therefore pain relief (not a long term solution!).
Those are all short term things and stretching isn’t necessary (to get back to the og question) to achieve any of them.

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I like to follow up mobility with strengthening the region in its new, yet temporary, range of motion. In essence, that’s true mobility work. For your example involving the chest/lats/t-spine, I’ll do a bit of active and/or dynamic stretching, and/or soft tissue work (lacrosse ball, etc.). Then I immediately perform band pull-aparts, face pulls, etc. so that my body is strong to better support my posture. I also participate in a sport that does tighten/shorten the chest and lats, so I do this regularly. My posture suffers when I don’t.

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I appreciate all the input! Thank you so much!