Does stretching really work?

Runner stretchingIt seems that stretching is one of the most controversial issues in athletics. Some research suggests that static stretching is a thing of the past and that dynamic stretching should be the only type of stretching that you should do. And then there is YOGA, which is very static “holds in various poses.” These two seem to contradict each other.  There are several types of stretching and lots of science behind each method, but what is real goal of stretching? Is it to get more flexible, prevent injury, or to relax? How flexible is flexible enough? Can I really prevent injury? How relaxed is relaxed enough? Is stretching going to make me faster? What about that guy who never stretches and seems to remain injury free even though he runs 90 miles a week?

There is a lack of understanding with what the goal of every day stretching should be. You often hear people say things like “My flexibility is terrible. I can’t even touch my toes.” The problem with an arbitrary goal of touching your toes is that the ability to touch your toes does not necessarily mean that your performance is going to improve or you chance of injury will be lowered.

I think that balance is really the key if you want to run to your potential and prevent injury. Being balanced allows you handle equal stress on both sides of your body. Since running is a single leg stance phase movement your weakest or least balanced side is going to limit you.

If you have one leg that has to work harder than the other because of a tight or weak muscle on that side your performance could be inhibited not because of a lack of cardio respiratory fitness, but due to mechanical stress and muscle fatigue. So it is clear that spending some time trying to balance your body through strengthening and stretching is worthwhile, but how much time should you spend and what type of strengthening and stretching should you do? Also, how do you balance your body?

Finding out your imbalances and what strengthening exercises you should do can be really tricky and most likely will require skilled PT, Chiro, or running analysis professional that can study your body and do some flexibility and muscle strength testing.

Recently I got certified as a Functional Movement Systems (FMS) certified exercise professional. This certification process filled a gap in my coaching knowledge and understanding of the body.

The FMS system is not about balancing your body in a mystical or theoretical sense but rather in a mechanical sense and actual sense. The power of this system is that you are no longer worried about isolating individual muscles and trying to get them stronger but instead you focus on movement patterns and how to improve an balance them right to left, front to back, and in every plane of motion.

To summarize:
•    Get your body tested for balance through an FMS certified professional
•    Balance your body through the exercises prescribed
•    Stretch using any of the below methods to improve mobility

Following this process will actually allow you to become more balanced, improve your flexibility, and your performance!

I am sure there are a few more types of stretching that I am not listing below but here is a fairly comprehensive list of methods of stretching methods:

•    Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF)
•    Static Stretching
•    Dynamic stretching
•    Active Isolated Stretching
•    Yoga

If you are interested in getting screened by a FMS professional search for a professional in your area.

Or get in touch with me for a free screening (yes I screen for free), Jay Stephenson here:


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