In Part I, we looked at the widely accepted practice of static stretching as a method of “warming up” before exercise, and how this practice is in fact not backed by any evidence, and may even be deleterious in its effects.
Static Stretching is also widely advocated after exercise, in order to facilitate recovery, and to reduce the effects of muscle soreness frequently experienced after hard training sessions.
“Surely at least My Post-Workout Stretches Haven’t all been a Waste of Time?” you cry…
I’m afraid the sacred cow slaying must continue!
Does Static Stretching Prevent D.O.M.S?
D.O.M.S. stands for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness – this is the pain and stiffness felt in muscles which comes on gradually after a hard training session, and is particularly bad after activities which involve “eccentric contractions” – that is where a muscle lengthens under tension. Think running downhill, or lowering weights slowly and under control.
Perhaps you truly believe that stretching after your workout reduces how much you ache, and who am I to stop you, but I’m afraid that many studies such as this one show that it doesn’t really make a difference.1
Though we may feel like we’re doing some good rolling around on the mats in funny positions after a long hard session in the gym, it’s really no more beneficial than wearing your lucky socks, or that special magic wristband you bought off the net…
Does Static Stretching Aid Recovery?
Unfortunately there is again no evidence that stretching after a training session has any effect on recovery. A study conducted in 2013 tested the effects of single vs repeated bouts of stretching on numerous markers of muscle damage, performance and stiffness found no beneficial effects to stretching immediately post exercise.2
One thing to note, is that this study did find some favourable reductions in muscle stiffness, in individuals who continued to stretch in the days following the exercise session.
Anecdotally, I can attest to the best cure for D.O.M.S to be movement of any form, be this stretching, dynamic mobility, and/or a light session of more of the same exercise or activity which caused it in the first place.
In part III, the final installment of this series, we shall look at stretching for flexibility, surely the one arena where this ubiquitous practice does have some utility?
1) The effect of passive stretching on delayed onset muscle soreness, and other detrimental effects following eccentric exercise. Lund H, Vestergaard-Poulsen P, Kanstrup IL, Sejrsen P
2) Effect of single bout versus repeated bouts of stretching on muscle recovery following eccentric exercise.
Torres R, Pinho F, Duarte JA, Cabri JM