Static Stretching Is an Awful Idea

David Liira

Health professionals have it all wrong!
Photo by Jane Palash on Unsplash

Contrary to popular belief, static stretching isn’t all that useful. It’s mind-boggling to think of how much attention it receives throughout health and fitness communities despite very little gain to show for it. Yes, it may feel good. Sure, it’s what we’ve always done. Unfortunately, there’s far too much evidence out there to suggest that we’ve been seriously mistaken.

Although the tides are beginning to turn, many folks are still on the ‘static stretch until I die’ ship. Let this article be a lifeline. It’s time to let realize that stretching isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be…and sometimes it does much more harm than good.

When stretching is a bad idea.

There are select scenarios where stretching can be useful. If you’re an older adult or part of an adapted population, static stretching can be a useful way to maintain functionality and range of motion. If you’re looking for a mindfulness practice, this can be a decent place to start. If you’re a dedicated ‘yogi’, you may also find flexibility gains through neuromuscular benefits, it will just take time. It's clear that some bodies can benefit from stretching if done correctly, but the majority of us can go without.

If you’re unfamiliar with the science behind static stretching, here is a super-quick crash course:

  • It doesn’t improve delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) like we originally thought it did.
  • There is very little scientific evidence to show that stretching will have a preventive effect on injury. Even if static stretching did improve elasticity (which it rarely does), there’s no link to it reducing harm to your tissues!
  • Compared to mobility and strength work, static stretching yields very few benefits from an athletic/performance standpoint.
  • It’s an awful warm-up option because you’re actually not warming up at all (you need to move for that).
  • The list goes on…

Today we’re going to look at 3 scenarios when stretching is not only inefficacious but also harmful. If you can avoid these, you’ll be much better off from an injury-prevention and overall health standpoint. Without further ado, let’s dive in!

1) When you’re cold.

If you’ve just woken up or you’re cold, performing a static stretch to your end range is not ideal. When you’re not warmed up, the nervous system can have trouble coordinating muscle movements safely. If you go straight into a deep stretch, you’re at risk for a muscle or tendon injury. If you really want to do static stretching, it will be much safer and beneficial for you to do it at the end of a workout. At the very least, perform some mobility movements before holding at your end range.

2) When you’ve got soft-tissue injuries.

During injuries like muscle tears or ligament sprains, the tissues of your body need to rest and be moved lightly. If you’re aggressively stretching these areas to their full extension, you may place these already vulnerable tissues in harm’s way.

It’s also important to note that there are rare cases when your injury could benefit from some stretching. If you’re unsure whether you can be lengthening your tissues to their full range of motion, go visit a physiotherapist for assistance. Ultimately, listen to your body. If you’re struggling with simple activities of daily living due to your injury, it’s likely not in your best interest to stretch these tissues to their max.

3) When you’re trying to get more flexible.

Contrary to popular belief, static stretching is an awful way to become more flexible and functional. You aren’t lengthening your muscles any more than they can already be lengthened, and once the stretch is over, your nervous system will quickly reset to leave you with no flexibility gains. If you’re a dedicated yogi who is constantly stretching you will see some benefits, but again…this is due to neuromuscular changes and not muscle alterations.

Essentially, your 30s stretch holds at the end of your workout are virtually worthless from a flexibility standpoint. While this isn’t necessarily harmful, you will be left greatly disappointed if your expectations aren’t realistic.

If you do want to get a better range of motion, try performing mobility and strength exercises. The evidence says that doing more dynamic movements, especially those with some load, can create lasting changes to your mobility and flexibility. Exercises like Romanian deadlifts and overhead squats are a great place to start.

The grand solution:

For those who are looking for a safe, ultra-efficient way to warm up and improve the functionality of cold/injured tissues, performing light mobility work will be your answer. Fortunately, this is incredibly simple. All you have to do is move the affected site along a pain-free range of motion, slowly moving to and from the start/end positions while breathing deeply. If you want some great mobility exercises to start with, there is a full guide for you here.

In closing,

As hard as it may be to believe, static stretching is one of the most overrated practices in all of fitness. It has very few lasting effects, and it can even be dangerous if you’re recovering from certain injuries or conditions. Instead of wasting your time, try doing more mobility and resistance training that can build robust, functional tissues. It’s finally time to let go of our obsession with static stretching and start doing activities that will make us healthier, stronger human beings.

Why not start today?

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Kinesiologist & Blogger. 15k+ followers. Dedicated to writing relevant, up-to-date pieces on health and the human condition. My job (and joy) is to save you time and money by delivering the tools you need to take control of your own wellbeing.


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