Busting Stretching Myths

Published: 03rd August 2009
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Dr Mel Siff in his usual style, addresses a number of myths about stretching in this great post from the Supertrainig Mailing List - here is the question that brought his response

In keeping with this discussion I recently found an excellent literature review-
"Myths and Truths of Stretching" at the following website: physsportsmed.com
It discussed some interesting principles such as desensitisation to stretch
rather the muscle spindle lengthening, which make one think about our
treatments and advices in the past.

**Several of us have been questioning the necessity for the use of
dedicated "stretching" and "warming up" sessions for many years, so it is
good to see a review of this stature examining these issues in depth (see
Siff MC "Facts and Fallacies of Fitness" 2000). I also like to point out
that stretching exercise (which are meant to deform tissues) are not
necessarily the same as flexibility exercises (which are meant to increase
range of movement).

There are several interesting issues in Shrier's article on stretching facts
and myths (THE PHYSICIAN & SPORTSMEDICINE - Vol 28 - No. 8 - Aug 2000), such
as this one:

< With respect to alleviating the pain associated with stiffness, the weight
of the evidence suggests that the decrease in stiffness is not as important
as the increase in "stretch tolerance". Briefly, an increase in stretch
tolerance means that patients feel less pain for the same force applied to
the muscle. The result is increased range of motion, even though true
stiffness does not change. This could occur through increased tissue strength
or analgesia; however, increased stretch tolerance that occurs immediately
after stretching must be caused by an analgesic effect because tissue
strength does not increase during 2 minutes of stretching. Unfortunately,
evidence of a possible analgesic effect is recent, and the underlying
mechanism is unknown. After weeks of stretching, increases in stretch
tolerance could theoretically occur because stretch-induced hypertrophy may
increase tissue strength , and/or an analgesia effect may be present. >

*The use of the term "analgesic" may not be entirely appropriate. While
there may be an as yet identified analgesic effect associated with intense
stretching, this may be greatly overshadowed by an accommodation effect which
changes the Rating of Perceived Effort (or pain) with regular imposition of
progressively increased stretching loads. This happens with all lifting -
the load progressively feels lighter and the lifter then can execute more reps
or a heavier 1 rep max.

This is not necessarily the same as the so-called disinhibition effect which
is an objective altering of nervous processes in the body - it is an effect
that is more subjectively psychological in origin (even though it also
obviously involves neural processes).

Despite the very useful and interesting nature of this review, the reference
list was disappointingly small and it made no use of some really relevant
work by Russian scientists such as Iashvili (see Ch 3 of Siff & Verkhoshansky
"Supertraining" 1999).

At least, the high profile given to this article will tend to make the
fitness pros and sports coaches start wondering a lot more about all those
traditional ideas about stretching and warming up.

Dr Mel Siff
Author of Supertraining + Facts and Fallacies of Fitness

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