Stretching Has Legitimate Benefits – They’re Just Not What You’re Supposing
For me, one of the key takeaways from the COVID-19 pandemic is that reaching consensus among industry professionals is about as easy as going up the CN Tower blindfolded and with one hand tied behind his back. These days, even the basics (e.g., “viruses exist”; “vaccines are helpful”) are questioned, often by people who are more interested in raising their own status than helping anyone. it would be.
The fitness industry is as guilty as any when it comes to obfuscating the facts, but thankfully the stakes for us trainers aren’t that high. No one will die as a result of an argument over rep patterns or exercise selection. But that, of course, doesn’t stop us from treating disagreements as personal affronts. I’ve seen my own credentials (not to mention my sanity) questioned many times over my career, all because I’m a proponent of one of the most controversial fitness protocols: stretching.
It makes sense that so many fitness professionals don’t care about stretching. Studies have suggested that stretching can hinder athletic performance because a stretched muscle does not produce as much force; and it is true that the physical relief it provides is only temporary. All of this means that if you’re a competitive sprinter and the difference between winning and losing is determined by fractions of a second, then it would be in your best interest to relax your hamstring stretches before a race. For everyone, however, stretching has legitimate benefits – they’re just not the benefits you might assume they are.
Stretching teaches body awareness
Something that too many trainers forget – or ignore – is that the vast majority of people who seek our services have a low level of what is called “body awareness”. They don’t know the names of muscles or how they work, they don’t know how to make body parts move in a particular way or what a specific movement should look like. Stretching provides a hands-on, hands-on opportunity to correct this.
My job is to teach clients how to move properly so they can apply that movement to real life scenarios. Typically, resistance training is the method we use for this training, but not everyone has the confidence or the ability to put on a weight on day one. do wonders for a person’s confidence and physical independence.
Stretching helps us recover
One thing the anti-stretchers and I agree on is that there are better ways to warm up before a workout or competition. Stretching requires us to be still and relaxed – not exactly the best formula for peak performance. However, after that is exactly the state you want to be in.
As I’ve said before in this column, exercise is a form of stress. Your primitive brain doesn’t know you’re squatting that weighted bar on purpose; he thinks you are weighed down by a boulder, so the “fight or flight” response is triggered to help you survive this imaginary threat. Unfortunately, those stress hormones (adrenaline, norepinephrine, cortisol) that help us through tough times can literally destroy our bodies if left unchecked. That’s why I insist that everyone I work with spends at least five minutes breathing deeply while maintaining some basic yoga-inspired stretches. It’s the perfect way to end a productive workout.
Two stretches I swear by
The following stretches have a permanent place in my own training programs.
Hold each stretch for 30 to 60 seconds, being careful not to get too aggressive. Find the initial point of tension and pause there. Take a few deep, slow abdominal breaths, then adopt a deeper range of motion if possible.
Piriformis stretch. Lie on your back, feet flat on the floor, knees up, heels close to your buttocks. Cross the leg you want to stretch over the other leg, resting the ankle/shin close to the knee in a figure four. For some, just getting into this position is enough. To go even further, reach around the resting leg and pull it towards your chest until you feel the stretch in your glutes.
Child’s Pose with Side Bend. From an all-fours position, push your butt toward your heels as your arms extend above your head as if reaching 12 o’clock. Your torso should rest between your legs, with your forehead resting on the floor. Move your hands to the right until they are at 2 o’clock. Take three slow, deep breaths, allowing all the tension in your neck and shoulders to dissipate. Repeat on the left side, reaching 10 o’clock.
Paul Landini is a personal trainer and health educator in Kitchener, Ontario.
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