Should you include stretching as part of your strength training to increase your flexibility? If so, how much and when? I have seen articles stating that any type of stretching is not good and I have seen articles that say you should stretch all the time. So who do you listen to?
If you’ve read my page on Warmups to Avoid Injuries, then you know I am against static stretching “before” training. However, I do believe stretching and flexibility are important for any strength training routine.
I’ll use squatting as an example. Remember the last time you saw someone with terrible form doing squats? Well, they were probably doing too much weight #1, but they probably had very tight hamstrings, etc, causing a limited range of motion also. Yes, doing any exercise properly through the full range of motion will naturally increase your flexibility, but adding to that with a stretching routine helps enhance the process. I trained a buddy that had limited time and rarely stretched, but he did perform Joe D’s Agile 8 before every lower body workout and he didn’t have an ego so he started very light. Over time he actually got really good at squatting. No huge numbers, but great form and depth.
Anyway… I believe a basic stretching program should be an integral part of any strength training program. The key is gauging the amount of stretching you need. I know from experience that if you become too flexible too quickly, you are going to have problems.
I’m not going into the specific types of stretching in this post (but I may in a future post). Until then, you can read about them at the University of Bath, UK, website
- Ballistic Stretching
- Dynamic Stretching
- Active Stretching
- Passive (relaxed) Stretching
- Static Stretching
- Isometric Stretching
- PNF Stretching
My Experience with Over Stretching
Since I’ve always thought flexibility is important, one day I decided I need to be more flexible. Many moons ago I was very flexible and I felt like I was getting tight, so I figured I’d just start up an intensive stretching program after my workouts. The problem was I didn’t realize that your flexibility must be in line with your strength gains.
I was able to get fairly flexible in a short period of time and it felt good. However, as I was becoming more and more flexible, my hips started popping during squats and deadlifts. At first I wasn’t sure why this was happening. Then one day I stopped to think about it and realized that my new flexibility was causing instability. My strength was increasing nicely, but my flexibility was increasing at a faster rate.
My New Philosophy on Strength Training & Stretching
Keep your strength training gains balanced with your flexibility gains. If they are out of balance, it would be better to have your strength gains ahead of your stretching.
Like working out… You can’t go into the gym and workout with maximal weights at maximal intensity from day 1 and expect no problems. Same thing applies to stretching. You can’t start stretching hard for extended periods of time and expect everything to be as stable as it was if you’re not balancing it with strength training. Stretching is something you need to ease into like anything else.
Also, I said this in Warmups to Avoid Injuries, but I’ll say it again…. Never do static stretching before anything that requires explosive effort! Just warm up.
Final Thought on Stretching
If you don’t know who Tom Platz is, look him up! This guy was an animal and once even squatted 500lbs 23 times! (Video Below). AND he could do full splits! So anyone that says you can’t be super flexible and still be strong is on crack. (Granted… I would bet that Platz, like many other bodybuilders, was taking some “stuff” that helped him get stronger and bigger, but it’s still impressive.) The one thing he did that goes against what I say is… Apparently, he would do 45 min of stretching before his workouts. (Again, it probably helps to have “special” supplements).