Did you ever have quizzes when you were in school?
I’m talking about surprises quizzes that were given without advance notice.
Usually they didn’t count much toward your final grade but were important to get a quick pulse on how the class was doing. Did they learn the previous lesson? Can the teacher proceed with more advanced concepts?
In other words, does the class understand the basics?
Well, guess what it’s quiz time!
And the question is what is something most people want when it comes to their training but will neglect as well?
The answer of course is stretching.
And I would guess the reason stretching gets little attention is that it’s not as appealing as a good strength or energy system training session.
Bodybuilders, power and Olympic lifters all like the pump after a good lift.
Aerobic athletes seek out ‘the high’ they get from a good ride, run, hike or swim.
And once we’ve gotten what we need out of the training session there isn’t much interest in stretching. It gets pushed to the side and ignored.
But the irony is more and more people identify flexibility and mobility as their goal for training. Maybe they have restricted mobility which impacts their quality of life. For example, maybe a lack of shoulder mobility impairs an individual’s ability to sleep at night. They may have nagging low back pain from tight hips and a weak core.
So we know what we need but for whatever reason we are reluctant to give stretching and mobility the attention it deserves in our training program.
This may be partly due to the fact most people train for a fat loss goal. They train to look better. They train to change the aesthetic which then helps with confidence and happiness. And losing some extra pounds helps alleviate strain on weight bearing joints such as the ankles, knees and hips.
If lifting and energy system training (i.e. cardio) burns calories, which is what many seek, than stretching may get pushed to the side.
But what if stretching enhanced a fat loss effort?
Well, let me back up a bit. What if fat loss allowed for better strength gains? And with better strength gains you were able to train more intensely which would burn more calories?
That may help to get more people on board with stretching.
A study from 1999 compared new muscle growth from stretching and force production.
Now to be fair this study used the anterior tibialis of a rabbit model. But while there were gains in hypertrophy the gains were augmented when stretching was combined with force production.
It appears that stretching may lead to increase in fiber length whereas the force production leads to an increase in fiber diameter.
The take home message is to make sure to incorporate stretching into your strength training program.
If you want to move better, stretch more.
If you want to alleviate pain, stretch more.
If you want to get stronger, stretch more.
Goldspink G. 1999. Changes in muscle mass and phenotype and the expression of autocrine and systemic growth factors by muscle in response to stretch and overload. J. Anat.194: 323–334.