T Nation

To stretch.....or NOT?

It is apparent that there is a healthy difference of opinion, even among top coaches, as to when is the ideal time to stretch. Ian King recommends static stretches prior to lifting; Staley goes for more active/dynamic stretches before; Poliquin recommends stretching as a session of its’ own 4-6 hrs AFTER and claims that static stretching before lifting increases injuries…AND, now we have Charlie Francis stating that attempts to reach new levels of flexibility should only be made AFTER lifting, when muscles are fully warmed. What are your opinions from experience?

I don’t know if there is any best way to answer this. Everyone one of these coaches you have mentioned certainly know their business and each have very valid points. I think that it is of the utmost importance that you stretch. When or how is up to the individual. That being said I find that what I like is some light stretching after five or ten minutes on a bike, before my workout. I think that this helps me in my workouts by making me rely less on the tendons and ligaments and more on the muscles. I know that that isn’t a very scientific explanation, but it is how I can best describe how it feels to me. I also very much enjoy strecthing after working out. I find at this time I can push much harder and better work on gaining flexibility also with this the muscles will be fatigued and not prevent you from strecthing by their protective mechanism.

I am not a strength coach but will share with you my experience. My focus is martial arts and most of my lifting is geared toward this. For me, all the coaches you mention are right. I have found that stretching too much right before a work out can hurt my performance in both the dojo and the gym. Doing a standing military press after agressive shoulder stretching makes me feel unstable, I don’t get as much weight max or for reps. Aggresive stretching before kicking and I feel weeker and slower. Injury prone? I dont’ know but I am still young, 22, and Poloquin sees many more athletes and older ones as well. The only trouble I have had is because I am young and simply ignored a groin strain/pull for weeks, I thought I could work through it and did but it got worse and worse of course and then I had to take time off. It came right back though and I couldn’t stretch it at all, I finally read about active release and tried it on myself. It hurt like hell but it worked, I had to use the other leg to help my hand push hard enough on the other one. If you have a problem like a nagging injury that you can’t stetch because of pain I would highly recomend using a real therapist unless your a broke college guy like myself who can’t afford one. Not stretching at all can be worse though with me failing to get top range in a DB military press(tight lats) and lower height on some kicks. I prefer light static stretching before a workout, and save partner stretches and dynamic and agressive static stretches for later but not necesarily the end and definitly not hours later, but then I have never tried it hours later. I think partner stretches in the middle of a kicking workout are benificial and at this time even very aggressive stretches don’t hurt my performance they help it. I have noticed that Staley is very big on a very big warm-up. If you look at the first part of my karate workout as a warm up then he is right about aggresive stretching before doing the best athletic work. I use this in the gym somewhat too, stretching between sets of deadlifts and good-mornings forcefully feels right for me but not before the first set or two. I get my best results with light static stretches after a warm up(I use 5min on the bike and 3-5 1min rounds with a rope)keeping to my known range or less but working through soreness on antogonists to get full range. Then I become more aggresive through out and really try to increase range as the workout progresses and ends. You will have to experiment to the find the best for you, but if you stretch like Staley suggests then do yourself a favor and warm up very well as he suggests also.

i tried all of those methods out over the course of several months, and i found some quick dynamic stretches before my workout only on specific muscle groups that i was working and then static stretching about an hour after my workout finishes worked best for me. try them out and record how you feel before after and during your workout, and then decide for yourself what you like.

You’re right there is a great difference of opinion. Trying different ways via trial and error will determine what’s best for you.
In my experience the type of workout that you do may influence how and when you stretch. Additionally, what is the aim of your stretching, i.e. are you seeking to develop flexibility or simply use it as a tool to benefit warm up and cool down/recovery?
Static stretches held for too long (whether done actively or passively)pre-workout can be detrimental if you are looking to work close to your 1RM, as they reduce your muscle’s ability to produce maximum tension. I prefer dynamic strteches pre-workout, but if your are using lighter loads, or want to keep to static stretches don’t hold the stretch much beyond 10 secs - pre-workout warm up is NOT the time to be concerned with developing flexibility!
In addition to this if I’m after a really good pump, static stretches can be useful between sets, but again, only for a relatively brief hold. You need to take care doing this during your workout as your proprioception is affected, and you may accidently over-stretch.
Regarding stretching post workout, becuase the muscles are very warm, it can be a good idea to hijack your cool down stretches and use them for developing flexibility. Both active and passive static stretches are useful here, as is PNF stretching - again both active and/or passive. Static stretches can be held for around 30 secs and repeated 2 or 3 times for this purpose.

But, (you knew that was coming…), I personally avoid doing flexibility work after a demanding session. Developing flexibility represents an overload for your muscles just like trying to develop strength, and only adds to the work your body has to do to compensate. Additionally developing flexibility can be demanding, and the lack of feedback I get from tired muscles doesn’t help me develop any awareness (the proprioception thing again) as I stretch.
Consequently I stick to a more traditional 10 secs x 3 method for my cool downs, and do flexibility either on a recovery day, (after a warm up of course), or later in the day if following a workout.
Hope this helps answer your query.

I think some excellent points have been made. I feel, that Francis has excellent points about pre vs. post workout stretching. That Staley has some excellent pre workout ideas. And that Poliquin is correct for saying another session is beneficial. Personally, I prefer to do ballistic stretching before a workout, and as Francis has mentioned (although, I’m not sure if he prefers ballistic or not) it’s NOT to increase ROM. It’s simply to warm up, if increased ROM happens, then that’s ok. After a workout I prefer static and/or PNF. This is where (again, in agreement with Francis) flexibility can be improved and should be worked on. Although, you can take it too far, as someone mentioned, it is still techinically overload and in fact stress. However, I also agree that at least once and preferably 2-4 times a week, a session of stretching (10 minutes - an hour) is beneficial for most anyone. There, ballistic, then static/PNF would be used. The amount of time would depend on muscles stretched, any injury, tightness, etc. DOn’t think your necessarily missing out if you don’t stretch for 6 hours a week.