Article by Jason Clarke
Static stretching is a commonly used modality within both fitness and strength training for a number of reasons. These reasons span from recovery benefits and the improvement of flexibility/mobility all the way to getting in really convoluted positions for the Instagram likes. Ironically enough however you’ll usually find those that are good at it use it, yet those those that at are bad at it don’t. That being said, what are some of the benefits that can be gained from its use? are there any benefits to stretching at all?
Seeing as the argument for/against stretching has many branches, for the sake of this article I will focus on its relation to muscle soreness (DOMS) and subsequently, recovery. As stretching can often be a common prescription to alleviate muscle soreness throughout fitness and sport – the common phrase “F**k I’m sore bro, I could really use a good stretch” pops to mind here.
(if you’re here for a quick summary shoot to the end of the article for some take away points)
Now when trying to determine the effectiveness of a recovery tool such as stretching (which is often prescribed through anecdotal and historical use) a good place to start looking for un-biased answers would no doubt be within peer-reviewed research. A quick Pub-Med search into the relationship between stretching and muscle soreness yields some fairly profound results here. In stark contrast to common belief (and that gym instructor who prescribed you 35 different stretches after you’re introductory programme) evidence from a multitude of research papers points directly to the fact that stretching is NOT an effective method of reducing DOMS.
Now in a bid to keep this article relevant to the powerlifting-sphere and avoid diving too much in to the literature it is important to look at articles which review all the relevant research within a specific area and make conclusions on the subject i.e. meta-analyses and systematic reviews. In the case of stretching and its effects on DOMS the most relevant review would seem to be one from Herbert, Noronha & Kamper (2011) titled “Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness”. Once again, in a bid to not dive too deep into the literature itself it would seem best to quote the authors themselves, as their own summary on the subject is rather clear-cut in nature. Here’s what they had to say:
“The evidence from randomised studies suggests that muscle stretching, whether conducted before, after, or before and after exercise, does not produce clinically important reductions in delayed-onset muscle soreness in healthy adults.” (Herbert, R., de Noronha, M. and Kamper, S, 2011).
Now based on this research this may seem like a rather one sided argument here, however as with the case in anything exercise or sport related it would be improper to not consider the practical side of things.
Some of you may be feeling as though stretching has always yielded good results for you and that you’ve felt it has always been a great recovery tool, personally I can’t agree with this statement (hence the article) but some of you may. Now if you are one of these people – I’m most certainly not here to tell you that “what you feel is a lie” and that you should only listen to what the research says. I mean recovery as a concept is inherently subjective regardless, not to mention DOMS itself is (generally) a subjective score based on the person’s perceptions of muscle soreness.
Therefore, considering the above it would almost be impossible to say that with full confidence stretching does not work specifically for you. However, research does seem to state otherwise…
Now, the gym bro in you may be thinking “research don’t mean shi*t bro, in the real world stretching is good for you! Why else would everyone do it?” yet (hopefully) the over analytical powerlifter in you may just be wondering “how does this information apply to me?”
So here are a few take-aways for you consider before you take time out of your busy schedule to drop on the floor for a good old hour long recovery stretch.
- Stretching may not be the best tool when it comes to reducing muscle soreness, in fact unless you are completely sold on it, it most likely won’t help at all.
- If you feel like stretching helps as a means to alleviate muscle soreness it may in fact be useful for you personally.
- At the very least stretching as a means for enhancing recovery is unlikely to be detrimental towards your performance. However, it may be more beneficial to consider other more effective modes of recovery i.e. water immersion or active recovery.
- Stretching is NOT a necessary component of a recovery schedule for powerlifting and needs to be considered thoroughly as to why it is being implemented.
Herbert, R., de Noronha, M. and Kamper, S. (2011). Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.