Sunday, May 19, 2013


                                                          There is nothing like having an empty subway car after a long day of  work on your way to the gym. It is virtually impossible. Somehow all the stars have aligned. You are sitting in the car alone, already dressed for the gym and excited to start the only hour of the day that is completely dedicated to you. Your workout hour. Should you take advantage of the extra space on the train and reward yourself with a self indulgent pre-workout stretch? The answer to this question has changed several times in my lifetime. 

I can recall my third grade gym teacher blaring music from his heyday as we stretched to the grooves of the 60's during the fist few minutes of gym class. We could not wait until the stretch was over. The groovy sound was replaced by the wails of the less athletic being preyed upon during dodgeball. That was it. We did nothing before we stretched. This had changed by the time I was a serious high school athlete. We would start with a running warm up, followed by a few minutes of passive static stretching(moving a muscle passed its normal range of motion while something holds it there for a period of time). Then we would go into our workout. I held this theoretical, scientific practice as a routine before every athletic activity through my college career. I cut the pre workout stretching when I was no longer on a team; partly due to time constraints and pure laziness. To my surprise, I noticed that I seemed to perform better when I didn't stretch before intense athletic activity. In true Terrence fashion, my affinity to finding the shortcut allowed me to unwittingly stumble upon facts of biomechanics.

Passive static stretching in preparation for athletic activity can be counterproductive for healthy individuals. Many studies like this in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, have come to this conclusion. When you stretch a muscle passed its active range of motion and hold it for a period of time, the muscle stretched is rendered weaker for a period of time after the stretch. That euphoric feeling you get may be your brain's way of telling you that you need to chill out while it takes care of what is going on in the stretched muscle; Much like the feeling you get after a big meal when your body needs to digest. Asking your body to work under these conditions can lead to decreased performance and makes you more susceptible to injury.

Furthermore, your muscles are tight for a reason and you don't have a clue what it can be. It is usually a protection mechanism. The tight muscle is working overtime because something else isn't doing its job. Stretching that muscle before exercise is akin to kicking a cane away from an elderly person and telling them to run. That's just cruel and stupid. If you have a muscle or group of muscles that are chronically tight, it's best that you allow it to rest from the aggravating activity. You may also want to start a strength training program that promotes balanced muscle health. Speaking to a doctor first is paramount.

What's my workout prep?
Although there is something to be said for jogging on the tread or doing something else that gets the juices flowing, it may not be what you need if you are just going to lift weights. Warm-ups should be exercise specific. If you are going to squat heavy, your warmup should be squats with lighter weight and more time under tension. If you are going to run, your warm up should be a jog, etc...

Is static stretching ever beneficial?
Yes it is but that is a topic for another ride. If that train takes too long to come, you can ask a question here, like me on facebook T is for TRAIN or hit me on twitter @TIs4TRAIN .

TrainSMART, Train4LIFE, TrainOrDIE!