- "Flexibility: Facts, Science, and Suggestions"
- "Advanced Recovery Techniques"
- "How to use MEDLINE on the internet to search through the science"


Good old flexibility is often touted as a key component in conditioning programs and is defined as the range of motion (ROM) around a joint. Searching "personal training literature" will bring forth many supposed benefits of static stretching (traditional reach and hold stretching) and it is believed that an increased ROM may decrease the risk of injury while increasing speed, agility, and power, thus contributing to performance.

According to some authors, it is "written in stone" that without static stretching the exerciser will be injured! It's probably true that going from "0 to 60" (no warm-up to maximal effort) has a greater chance of injury, and you won't get arguments from strength coaches or therapists, but unfortunately it's not possible to test in research. Finally, there is no consensus on the best warm-up or stretching program.

Does stretching provide performance benefits and injury prevention? To answer this, an interested reader might want to sit through the 300-page "The Science of Flexibility". Man, if you thought stretching was boring, try reading a book about stretching. The authors state that no research has shown flexibility training prevents injury. Furthermore, the only scientifically established benefit of flexibility is that it allows the individual to tolerate a greater magnitude of stretch.

All arguments for stretching come from physiological theory and anecdotal evidence. Based on anatomy and physiology, flexibility should help athletes increase tissue compliance. Furthermore, most people agree that stretched muscles feel more comfortable and are quick to blame any injury on lack of stretching/flexibility. In theory, stretching could prevent injury as tight or cold muscles are more susceptible to strains.

When an injury occurs, it is easy to say, "Could have been avoided with stretching", but is that true? What about when Michael Johnson pulled a muscle in the great showdown with Donavan Bailey in 1997? Do you think Johnson neglected to stretch? Can flexibility truly prevent against the violent forces applied in sprinting and cutting? Is a 10-second hamstring stretch the be-all and end-all of injury prevention? What are the contributions of muscle strength or warm-up in injury prevention?

Despite a lack of "hard science", most coaches recommend that each muscle be stretched for approximately 10 seconds after a thorough warm-up in order to prevent injury. Provided the warm-up is adequate, there is no harm in stretching, and it may serve to "psychologically prepare" the athlete for training. For the greatest increases in flexibility and ROM, there is science to support that stretching should be performed after a training session and each stretch should be held for up to 30 seconds. Do not stretch recently injured areas, inflamed muscle, or if pain occurs.

Static stretching has been shown to increase tolerance to stretch and "flexibility" (Wiemann and Hahn, 1997). Unfortunately, stretching has not been repeatedly proven to prevent soreness or injury, or increase strength, despite what "personal trainers" believe. Other stretching options include PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation), dynamic, and ballistic stretching. Dynamic flexibility involves movement through a full ROM to prepare the muscles and nervous system for activity. Ballistic stretching is similar to dynamic flexibility, but occurs at a much faster speed. PNF is a technique best explained in person by a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist.

Another popular myth on the stretching forefront is that training with weights decreases ROM. Specifically, many people believe that the concentric contractions in resistance training shorten the muscle and thus flexibility training must be performed in order to prevent contraction induced shortening.

HOWEVER, if you are using a full ROM in the eccentric with both concentric and eccentric movements, then there should be a balance in shortening and lengthening of the muscle. Simply put, for each shortening, you should have a lengthening in that muscle, and thus no loss of flexibility. In fact, weight training is simply "loaded ballistic stretching" or "loaded dynamic stretching" (depending on contraction speed). In fact, research shows that ROM can be increased after static and ballistic stretching but that it remains unchanged after resistance training (Wiemann and Hahn, 1997).

Only when the muscle is in a shortened state for extended periods (threshold time unknown), such as the hip flexors while sitting, should inflexibility be developed. Thus, for those in situations where there is no muscle lengthening, flexibility training is recommended. This may help alleviate lower back problems and tight hip flexors for those that sit (i.e. office chairs) for several hours each day.

Can stretching help performance? Well, maybe, but probably not in the manner that most people would expect. Strength Coach Charles Poliquin believes, "Stretching the antagonistic muscle groups may benefit the performance of a lift using the agonist muscles." For example, before bench presses, the lifter would stretch the upper back by pulling on a pole for a few seconds. Strength may increase using this method.

Flexibility training may also assist multi-joint exercises that are limited by a poor range of motion. For example, some lifters have a problem with their heels rising during the squat exercise. Poliquin believes this may be due to a tight hip flexor region, and thus it is necessary to stretch the psoas and rectus femoris. Consistent performance of the static lunge stretch could help dissipate this problem.

While those are 2 reasons to include stretching as a vital component to training, other claims are off the mark as fitness authors claim that it helps speed the healing process. It's a nice belief, but there is little evidence to back that up and it hasn't reduced muscle soreness in a clinical setting. But why would it? Even if you stretch pre-workout, muscle soreness is due to the loaded contractions (predominately eccentric) that occur during training. Flexibility has no impact. If you are doing negatives with 120% of your 1 RM or if you are running downhill, rule out flexibility as a muscle-soreness prevention method. If you don't want sore muscles, don't train.

The most absurd claim that has been given to flexibility is that "fascial stretching" can actually build muscle. A fact of physiology, stretching does not build muscle, unless you consider the eccentric component of a repetition as stretching (and technically, it is). Fascial stretching is claimed to help growth by relieving the tightness of the surrounding connective tissue and allowing the muscle fibers to stretch out and grow. Unfortunately, the theory just doesn't translate and this is not a limit to growth.

Stretching will definitely assist injury rehabilitation. Scar tissue that occurs in response to injury might be rehabilitated with stretching (and other techniques). Furthermore, a decreased ROM can be combated with stretching. Simple static stretches, using the guidelines below, should be able to increase range of motion and function in injured joints and muscles, but this type of program should only be instituted several days after the injury has started the healing process.

Remember not to stretch injured or inflamed tissue. As recommended at the Society of Weight Training Injury Specialists (SWIS) conference, there are several stages in the injury response and stretching is advised against early, but then recommended after about 3 days post-injury.

0-6 h = minimize injury
6-24 = minimize inflammation (inflammation can cause atrophy, scarring, adhesion)

21-36 = avoid more injury

3-6 d = increase range of motion (increase tissue temp., slow & prolonged stretching)

7-14d = increase strength

15d = increase function

The best advice for all stretching programs is to avoid extremes. Don't worry about becoming a human pretzel, but don't ignore stretching (or a proper warm-up). For further rehabilitation, injured individuals should consider alternatives, one of which may be Active Release Techniques (a topic of a future newsletter).

Wiemann, K., and K. Hahn. Influences of strength, stretching and circulatory exercises on flexibility parameters of the human hamstrings. Int J Sports Med 18:340-346, 1997.


1) Always warm-up to increase the tissue temperature and blood flow. A warm-up for the lower body could be as simple as a 10-minute walk.

2) Isolate the muscle to be stretched in a relaxed, non-weight bearing position.

3) Make the stretch slow and smooth to avoid a reflex contraction.

4) Do not overstretch. A slight tension should be developed and this tension should subside during the stretch. 

5) Hold each stretch (10 to 30 seconds).

6) Increase the length of the stretch when the tension resides.

7) Breathe regularly during the stretch to ensure relaxation. 

8) When the stretch is over, come out of the position with a slow and smooth movement.

9) Stretch consistently, especially if it is part of a rehabilitation program.



Ever wonder why those guys that seem to train sporadically (3 times per week, then a week off, then hard for 3 weeks then off, etc.) seem to grow as well, and sometimes better than yourself? What about guys who explode with growth when they take a week off for a holiday where they lounge and binge-eat?

Why do these guys get more gains than you get even though you train religiously 5 days per week 52 weeks per year? Well unknowingly, these guys are actually training along a smarter schedule, because their bodies are receiving enough rest. If you incorporated more systematic recovery strategies in your training regimen...your grains would go through the roof!

Many athletes underestimated the importance of rest and recovery in their training plans. Quality rest includes adequate sleep and rest days and allows for higher quality training sessions. Rest can also be applied by the inclusion of a week of low-volume training after a 4-6 week training cycle.

Aside from the obvious increases in general rest, strength coach and Ph.D. candidate Jonathon Fowles from the University of Waterloo has some advanced athletic recovery techniques. According to Fowles, fatigue is multi-factorial and chronic fatigue can result in overtraining. Other factors in recovery:

      1. Tolerance to fatigue (inflammation response)

      2. Nutrition and hydration

      3. Active Rest & Stretching

      4. Sleep

      5. Relaxation & Emotional Support

Physiologically, training requires compensation and adaptation in response to the stress imposed during exercise. According to Fowles, one of the best ways to prevent inflammation and degradation is to apply cold therapy and proper nutrition.


To start recovery after intense lower body exercise, Coach Fowles recommends 5-8 min in 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit water, submerged up to the navel after a hard workout, and after a proper cool-down and stretch. His theory is this:

Vasoconstriction (from the cold) of peripheral blood vessels helps to remove blood from legs when the muscle-pump no longer active. The cold also limits inflammation (by slowing metabolism) and swelling responses post-exercise. "Free radicals" are known to be prevalent after exercise, and the tub quickly slows metabolism so recovery can start. In using this technique, many athletes report to Coach Fowles that they suffer less from "dead legs" and fatigue.


Post-exercise cooling has been used extensively in athletics for years. In summary, the technique may reduce the inflammation response, free radical damage, and metabolism after exercise so that less fatigue and more recovery are possible.




MEDLINE is one of the most visited websites for research scientists seeking past information on their research topics. Simply by entering a few keywords, you will have access to thousands of journals and an infinite number of research abstracts on literally any scientific topic. Go to the page:

MedLine - PubMed

From here, refine your search using keywords, such as "muscle soreness AND stretching". You can also limit your search to date, human research, or review articles.

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