Many people have brought to my attention this article from the New York Times, with the somewhat provocative title, Reasons Not to Stretch.
While I certainly appreciate the desire to educate people about fitness myths, I feel like the article left a lot to be desired. Of course, that could just be my frame of reference.
First, most of us in the fitness community have known for quite some time that cold static stretching doesn’t really help, and could actually hurt your performance. There have been a number of studies showing this and it’s pretty much widely accepted at this point. The findings of these studies are slightly less applicable for endurance athletes and more applicable for people who require explosive power at near maximum capacity– people lifting weights or playing any type of combative or contact sports.
Second, while the article points out that warming up is important, in my opinion, it underplays the importance of mobility and dynamic stretching. Performing some key dynamic stretches that put the joints through a full range of motion with some load are important not only for performance, but for increasing flexibility and preventing injury. We do a lot of movements that are at the terminal end of our range of motion– squats to full depth, overhead presses where the shoulder fully opens, front rack involving rotation of the shoulder and extension of the wrist, and so on– and loosening up the muscles around the appropriate joints is necessary for proper technique, which leads to better workouts and less injuries.
Finally, the article underplays the importance of stretching after the workout. Sure, static stretching after might not actually do anything aside from make you feel a little better. But isn’t that enough? I mean, why do you work out, if not to feel better? On top of this, the article is only talking about static stretching, they say nothing about additional mobility work such as myofascial release, PNF, trigger points, etc.
So we’ll stick to this formula: Warm up. Work out. Mobilize.