In this post we discuss a recent study that found stretching can make some people stronger.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog then you’ll be used to me bleating on about stretching.
In particular about the finding of most studies that it reduces the ability of muscles to produce force. In other words it makes you weaker.
That’s why I was interested to read this recent systematic review on the chronic effects of stretching.
One of the surprising conclusions was that repeated bouts of stretching over weeks and months can actually make some people stronger.
Why stretching makes some people stronger
The key point here is that the study found stretching can make SOME people stronger. And those people were relatively easy to identify.
In most cases they were older. deconditioned, and more likely to be women.
To understand why this occurred we need to understand what happens to a muscle when you stretch it.
As static stretching was the primary form of stretching investigated in the study, we’ll use that as an example.
If you take one end of a muscle and gradually pull it away from the other end, you are in fact applying a force to the tissue.
What your central nervous system (CNS) decides to do with that information depends on a number of factors. These include whether this has happened before and what the likely outcome is.
Novice stretchers may experience more resistance than those who’ve been doing this for a while.
The resistance you experience is your CNS applying tension to the muscles to prevent you going too far and hurting yourself.
One possible explanation for an increase in strength therefore, is the fact that in some way this is a form of resistance training.
To a deconditioned person this may result in a trivial to small increase in strength as the study found.
Should stretching be used to increase strength?
Naturally this unforeseen by product of static stretching led the authors to wonder whether it could be used as a method to increase strength in untrained individuals.
Sure it could. Just as driving your car around town in 5th gear could be used to save petrol.
There is a much better way to do it however, actual resistance training.
The strength gains from static stretching are so trivial compared to resistance training that this idea isn’t worth considering for a moment.
Plus we know that there’s a heap of other benefits that regular resistance training provides that static stretching can’t including:
an increase in resting metabolic rate
reduced body fat
improved physical performance
improved movement control
increased walking speed
improved cognitive abilities and self-esteem
prevention and management of type 2 diabetes
improved insulin sensitivity
reduced resting blood pressure
decreased low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and triglycerides
increased high-density lipoprotein cholesterol
increased bone mineral density
reductions in pain
And last but by means least, an increase in flexibility.
Yes that’s right, the only thing that stretching can reliably do can also be done using resistance training.
Stretching, whilst pleasant to some people, isn’t a necessary part of your exercise regime.
Instead explore range of motion within the boundaries set by your CNS, using a resistance that’s appropriate for the muscles you’re challenging.
This will give you all the flexibility you need.