Monday, January 2, 2012


My latest article in TGO is on Stretching.  I've put some of the research that I reference here.  One of the most respected outdoor writers in the UK  -  Chris Townsend - liked my piece.  He wrote on his blog:

I must admit though that the piece that gave me most pleasure in this issue is a short Hill Skills one on the latest research into stretching by Chris Highcock. Why should a piece on the boring activity of stretching delight me so much? Because it says that it's pointless and may even "make you slower, weaker and less efficient". Yippee! I've thought that for years, based on nothing more than personal experience and an intense dislike of the activity. Now I have academic research to back me up. Many years ago when I regularly did long hill runs and mountain marathons I tried stretching because all these super-fit runners I saw at the start of events were doing it and saying it was essential if I wanted to avoid injury. The only result was that I ached more the day after running and stretching than after the days when I didn't stretch at all so I soon abandoned it despite dire warnings as to the results. I can now not stretch and feel that this is a positive approach. That makes me happy.

That was satisfying to read.


Sifter said...

Sorry, I still am not convinced.

Improper stretching will mess you up just like squatting improperly will hurt your knees or back.

We all lose both flexibility and mobility as we age, connective tissue loses elasticity, collagen, etc. I can't believe that proper stretching, especially the kind done on your feet (chinese style,or INFLEX by Adrian Crooke)is anything but helpful, increases range of motion, and lubricates the joints for easier, freer movement down the road.

Tony Mach said...

If I take a look at the stretching habits of my mother's dog, I notice that the dog does stretch when getting up after resting: once to the forelegs, once for the hindlegs.

My take on this: If you feel the impulse to stretch, in the morning or after resting, then do it once, you should feel better and be done with stretching.

Anonymous said...

Doctor's of Physical Therapy, Sports Physiology, and Certified Personal Trainers all agree that stretching, especially AFTER activity, is good for you. Show me someone that isn't flexible enough to sit in good posture, who has to compensate by rounding their lumbar spine and is playing havoc on their connective tissues and lumbar discs, is living a healthier, less injured life style. No seriously.

I'm all for the looking at different viewpoints, but if world class athletes, navy seals, marathon runners, wrestlers, etc all stretch... probably something to it. Besides, if something falls on you and you aren't flexible enough to have it roll off you, something is going to tear. ACL, hamstring, labrum (shoulder socket), etc... It's not like it doesn't happen every day, and I'm not about to be convinced by one dude in a magazine. Hint: controversy sells issues!

Chris said...


The research that I pointed to is clear on three things:
Stretching before or after exercise does not prevent injuries, it does not reduce DOMS and seems to inhibit rather than improve performance.

That is not to say that there is no place for stretching to address particular structural issues eg tight hip flexors.

Stretching is a fashion in many ways at least in the way the average amateur uses it and expects to benefit from it.

FeelGoodEating said...


How does Yoga tie into all of this?


Chris said...

Hi Marc

I think yoga is complicated. It covers a lot of different things and styles. The articles at
Are worth looking through.

I am not against stretching or flexibility per se just trying to point out that the science supporting it is not very strong.

Hope you have a great 2012

Anonymous said...

Anonymous here again,
Thanks for the reply Chris. As I'm reading more and more of this research that you've linked to, I see that is is a summation of abstractly linked studies on the topic of stretching and fails to deal with one thing: how the stretches were applied, the atheletes' relative flexibility and if the injuries were overuse injuries, hyperextensions, socket subluxations, and so on. If someone runs off a cliff, it's no wonder stretching didn't help prevent their injury.

Stretching for those that lack ideal ranges of motion, probably 10-25% of all athletes depending on how professional they are, should be applied in a very personal manner. Someone with hamstring inflexibility who routinely stretches their hip flexors and quads ONLY will not gain from stretching, and it is no recent scientific discovery that static stretching inhibits maximal force production for a certain length of time.

What I'm getting at is that a topic of controversy can generate attention, and thereby generate sales and media attention, to those that would otherwise be agreeing with the general community. To highlight what I mean, I take a direct quote from one the research studies done: "'For your muscles to function at optimal capability, they should not be too loose nor too tight,' said Dr. Lisa Bartoli..." She goes on to say that you should warm up, THEN stretch.

It also hasn't mentioned anywhere, still, as to what kind of injuries we're talking about here. If you run 100 miles, it doesn't matter how much stretching you do, you're almost guaranteed to get injured from an overuse injury. It's the devious generalizations that reference sports physicians as their proof but don't encompass the whole story. I could be right and so could this study, but this study fails to deal with the "meat and potatoes" of the true subject: does a certain kind of stretching prevent certain kinds of injuries? That'd be like saying gas is bad for your car... if you drive a turbocharged diesel and you're throwing in unrefined crude into the tank.

By misinforming your readers, you may be injuring them and that is no bueno.

Josie said...

I just gave myself a high five! Awesome!

Bill said...


The bottom line is that there is no compelling evidence that stretching offers a benefit that is commensurate to the time commitment of doing it. Many of us have limited amounts of time. Why spend that time on something that seems to offer so little in the way of return?

Bang for buck.

This is not MISinforming but is informing. In the end, you make the decision whether or not to stretch. As for me, I'm not going to waste my time. It's very liberating.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous here yet again,
My name is John by the way, just don't feel like signing up for anything =P.

Well Bill, my response to this is that physical therapists, massage therapists, chiropractors, general practitioners, and homeopathic specialists all profit from this kind of misinformation. If someone's training is not completely balanced, they will sooner or later develop muscle imbalances which pull on a joint unevenly causing excess joint wear. This in turn causes inflammation, soreness, and possibly even trigger points (intense version of muscle spasms). Physical therapists rely on non-stretchers and bad exercisers to make their income, as well as car crashes, fallers, and so on.

Massage therapists also rely on people with chronic muscle tightness, and there is an intense pleasuring effect that comes from stretching which keeps their clients returning. Muscle spasms and trigger points only help to bolster their income!

Chiropractors deal with people with weak abdominal muscles and compensating off-kilter erector spinae muscles. Granted, spinal alignment is significantly important, but as to who really needs it over a better training program is hard to tell. The muscles support the skeleton and vice-versa, so people with chronic spinal misalignment are 99% sure to have muscle problems that are causing them.

General practitioners throw pills such as muscle relaxers, NSAIDS, and headache medicines at people who have chronic tightness of muscles that can cause tension headaches, muscle spasms, overuse injuries on the joints, or joint inflammation as a result of muscle imbalances. Naturally pills won't fix a broken bone, so taking pills is probably going to get you to have to take more pills forever!

Now, I could go on forever but I think you see the point. Proper joint alignment, induced by proper length-tension relationships of muscles, induced by a PROPER stretching procedure and PROPER exercise regiment set up for the INDIVIDUAL can have life-changing, injury-REDUCING effects and can save people thousands of smackaroo's in health care bills in their lifetime. The body his amazingly complex, and these studies you've liked to are NOT. They reference stretching in the general sense, never guided stretching. And medical science can and does back me up as far as these types of injury prevention, which the studies linked on your site, Chris, have cleverly avoided to cover.

Now if you don't want to stretch and you're already good to go as far as posture, length tension relationships, and so on... be my guest. Stretching won't do that much for you. But if your hamstrings are overly tight and you bend down to pick something up off the ground and round your back... the injury doesn't have to be today. You just let your upper body weight rest on your vertebrae's connective tissues and not your lower back muscles. Those tissues have a very limited mileage on them and when they run out: CRACK, SNAP, POP! You're gonna be seeing some of the specialists I've mentioned saying, "Why oh why didn't I stretch?"


Marwan Daar said...

Just discovered this blog, thanks to Stephan over at WholeHealthSource.

As someone who does dynamic warmups religiously before any intense physical activity, I can attest to their performance benefits, and incredible ability to reduce injuries.

However, I've noticed that a lot of the discussion here about stretching is within a particular context - that of the warmup.

My hip/groin area is very inflexible. If I sit cross legged, my knees are about a foot above the ground. I would love to be able to achieve something akin to the lotus position before I die. If I attempt to do squats (back squats or front squats) too far below parallel, with any substantial weight, I immediately injure my iliopsoas area.

Do you think that stretching, as an end it itself, done properly and in a context outside of intense physical activity, can improve the long term flexibility of these areas?

If so, does this not qualify it as a performance enhancer?

tomkurz said...

""'For your muscles to function at optimal capability, they should not be too loose nor too tight,' said Dr. Lisa Bartoli..." She goes on to say that you should warm up, THEN stretch."

Wrong. You should warm up, then work out, and then stretch IF YOUR SPORT REQUIRES A HIGHER THAN AVERAGE ROM or to fix muscle tension imbalances.

Anonymous said...

John here again,
Well tomkurz, you said stretch if your sport requires a higher than average ROM... but you didn't mention how flexible the ATHLETE is, which is the whole basis of how, what, and when to stretch.

And if you warm up, then workout, and then stretch... that works, but Ryan Hall, Olympic marathon champion (~2 hrs 5 min) does dynamic stretching, which was also referenced in the research material specifically as a method to increase range of motion without sacrificing maximal strength and power output. I know an Olympic rower, Daniel Walsh, who also does dynamic stretching before his workouts. Navy SEAL BUD/S students are forced to do dynamic warm-ups before their PT regiments, personal trainers who study under the National Academy of Sports Medicine are recommended to stretch their clients dynamically, rather than statically, once they have achieved sufficient range of motion necessary to correct postural imbalances... You see where I'm going with this.

Every single different sport, along with different positions in different sports, require different ranges of motion for maximal force output. You have touched on that, but have forgotten what all of these studies have forgotten: the athlete. It is the athlete that you're stretching, not the sport, and we all know people aren't going to be the same and have the same length-tension relationships. With that said, if someone is lacking in range to sufficiently compromise a workout, then it would be to their benefit to stretch statically AND dynamically after a warm-up but before a workout to make sure to lessen the chance of movement compensations, which can lead to overuse injuries.

This stuff has been known for years... we're talking decades here. That's nice that you got people this far based on a controversial headline... now it's time to educate them. I'm a personal trainer myself and I hate to read these kinds of things because I know people are going to read it once and think: oh, I don't have to ever do that anymore. Forgive me for my steadfast trolling of this topic but it irks me to no end.

May the force be with you all,

tomkurz said...

Yes, I didn't mention individualization of flexibility training. It goes without saying.
How stupid one has to be to keep working on increasing ROM if one already has all that one needs?

“This stuff has been known for years... we're talking decades here.”

Yes, I know. I the first edition of my book Stretching Scientifically was published in 1985. In that edition you could learn about the dynamic stretching and about the idiocy of static stretching prior to dynamic actions. You can see the current fourth edition at