By Eric Owens
When it comes to the flexibility of tight muscles and preventing injury, I am going to make the
case that strength training is actually more effective than stretching.
First, let’s discuss the 17 year gap. It is frequently stated that it takes an average of 17 years for
research evidence to become clinical practice. This means that the recovery and stretching
knowledge and work being done today is based on data that is 17 years old. In reality, there is
new research being done today that we could rely on now to gain an advantage, but that
requires access to some of the best labs and discoveries in the world.
At Delos, we have done a significant amount of work to gain direct access to some of the most compelling scientists, journals and organizations, including the Fascia Research Society, Keith Baar of UC Davis, Bill Parisi of Fascia Training Academy and Tom Myers of Anatomy Trains, all of whom play a big role in discoveries and education relating to soft tissue health.
Repetitive motions such as running lead to muscle tightness, and runners typically stretch to
relieve the tightness and prevent potential injuries. Being flexible allows runners to move more freely with a better and more efficient running economy. Flexibility also leads to faster recovery and therefore more frequent runs.
The question is, what are the latest discoveries on stretching and their impact on factors that
runners care about - athletic performance, injury prevention and flexibility.
Research in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research showed that static stretching
before a run can impair the performance of a muscle for up to 24 hours by activating the
guarding mechanisms that prevent overstretching. This means that stretching intended to
enhance performance actually inhibits it instead. The findings show that dynamic stretching is
actually more effective in improving performance when done before running.
The British Journal of Sports Medicine compared stretching to strength training and their effects on rate of injury. The conclusion was that strength training decreased the rate of injury by two thirds. By contrast, stretching had no effect on the rate of injury. This is compelling information considering that most runners rely on stretching to prevent injuries.
A study done in Brazil that was published by the Fascia Research Society looked at 45 subjects with tight hamstrings and assigned them into 3 groups:
1. hamstring stretching group
2. hamstring strength training in a lengthened position group
3. control group
The researchers discovered that stretching as well as strengthening increased stretch tolerance, meaning the subjects could tolerate the pain associated with stretching better. However, only the strength training group produced a change in flexibility. This was due to strength training being done in the lengthened position, or the eccentric phase of movement. The idea is that eccentric strength training causes sarcomeres (the functional unit of a muscle) to develop more in series and elongate a muscle rather than to develop in parallel side by side. Sarcomeres aligned in a series generate longer, more flexible muscles, leading to a much wanted increase in running performance that is originally sought through stretching.
The latest scientific discoveries on the topic suggest that incorporating strength training into a
running regimen is critical for so many reasons. Strength training using an appropriate volume
of weight and intensity is also an important consideration. At Delos Strength, our 30 minute,
one-on-one strength training sessions focus on athlete-specific eccentric movements to
maximize the impact on the muscles and soft tissue. In addition to affecting body composition,
this style of training also increases flexibility and athletic performance while minimizing injuries.
Eric Owens is the co-founder of Delos Strength and Delos Therapy, and a Hall of Fame table tennis athlete with numerous US and Pan-American Titles. He has a Master’s Degree in Biochemistry.
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