This rumor has been circulating for some time now. I’ve heard little snippets here and there that the rule our P.E. teachers, coaches, and parents worked so hard to ingrain in us when we were young and athletic may have actually been holding us back.
We were told that in order to enhance our performance and prevent injury we needed to make sure that our muscles were warmed up before we worked out. Research is now proving that exactly the opposite may be true.
The numbers, especially for competitive athletes, are sobering. According to their calculations, static stretching reduces strength in the stretched muscles by almost 5.5 percent, with the impact increasing in people who hold individual stretches for 90 seconds or more. While the effect is reduced somewhat when people’s stretches last less than 45 seconds, stretched muscles are, in general, substantially less strong.
They also are less powerful, with power being a measure of the muscle’s ability to produce force during contractions,
My first thought was that perhaps this was the secret that the Chinese were using when they beat everyone’s pants off at the Olympics. Everyone else was accusing them of performance enhancing drugs. The truth was probably that they just knew better than to twist themselves into pretzels right before trying to achieve the pinnacle of physical performance.
Just why stretching hampers performance is not fully understood, although the authors of both of the new studies write that they suspect the problem is in part that stretching does exactly what we expect it to do. It loosens muscles and their accompanying tendons. But in the process, it makes them less able to store energy and spring into action, like lax elastic waistbands in old shorts, which I’m certain have added significantly to the pokiness of some of my past race times by requiring me manually to hold up the garment.
Yoga must be the exception to this rule. I assure you the Yoginis I know bear no resemblance to the aging elastic waistband of my running shorts. Of course, Yoga as a practice is much more than mere stretching. I would still like to see this study in relation to Yoga as a sport. Then again, if Yoga is a sport in itself it follows that perhaps practicing one sport directly before another would diminish your capacity to perform.
I was also thinking in more figurative terms. When acting a scene – sometimes the first take is the best, and subsequent takes can grow stale. Is it perhaps along the same lines? Could it be that rehearsing our muscles creates a stale performance in a similar way?
As usual, the truth probably resides somewhere in the middle. I know that my Achilles tendon requires some gentle stretching in the morning before I can even walk downstairs. It certainly enhances my performance. I might jump farther without it once, but if it ruptured I would never jump again.
That’s it for Fit Friday!