TO STRETCH OR NOT TO STRETCH – THAT IS THE QUESTION


In 1986, when I started teaching fitness classes at a local Vancouver gym, I drove my participants to the point of exhaustion. They loved it.  “Chew me up and spit me out,” they exclaimed as we treated them to five straight minutes of jumping jacks. Our participants demanded pain, and we needed to give it to them. If the pain was so intense it caused injury, we found ourselves in court. If it was not intense enough, they complained and we found ourselves unemployed.

 Gradually, participants became informed consumers. They listened to the instructors who encouraged them to split the jumping jacks up with other movements such as running on the spot with their knees touching their ears. Instructors, trying to promote themselves as professional, began to give information to their participants. The information came from research, and research came from universities that had labs, computers, callipers and graduate students. Any information coming from universities had to be correct. They could trust the information.

 The result of all this research was a gradual subtraction of the standard components of fitness classes. Patterns replaced freestyle. Low impact grapevines and double steps replaced jumping jacks and running on the spot. Core conditioning and isometrics replaced sit-ups and crunches. If one were to drag a fitness class from the 1980s into a modern-day class, they would likely be unable to keep up.

 Now research is aiming its electrodes at stretching.

 Stephen B. Thacker, director of the epidemiology program office at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reviewed 361 research studies on stretching. The results, published in the March 2004 issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, concluded there was no evidence that stretching before or after exercise prevents injury or muscle soreness.

 The study concluded that stretching does improve flexibility, but being flexible does not prevent injuries. It also concluded that there was not sufficient evidence to recommend people stop stretching. On the other hand, there no good evidence to suggest people start using stretching. The bottom line – if stretching feels good, do it. If it does not, put that time into some warm-up and balance exercises instead.

 I always thought stretching was a sacred cow, and I would never have suspected that it would ever be the subject of research. If I eliminated stretching from my classes, I would experience an aerobic revolution the size of the Boston Tea Party. Participants often tell me I should stretch longer, and some would prefer to spend forty-five minutes out of each hour stretching.

 Here are five reasons I will continue to stretch in my classes:

  1. Many of my participants are over thirty, and many set increasing their flexibility and range of motion as one of their fitness goals
  2. It gives me an opportunity to share information with my class on current events
  3. I get a chance to play my Stan Getz compact disc and other jazz and bossa nova standards of the 1960s
  4. I get to hear my participants laughing at my jokes
  5. Finally, I can impress my class with my ability to extend my legs out on either side of my body and touch my chest on the floor. (I call this showing off, but I have noticed some in my class creeping down on me millimetre by millimetre.)

Mike Broderick is an Employment Specialist for the Neil Squire Society in Burnaby where he finds employment for people with physical disabilities. Part of this work means affiliation with the Vancouver Board of Trade where he is a member of the Ambassador Club, the Burnaby Board of Trade where he is a member of the Labour Task Force, the Tri Cities Chamber of Commerce where he is an active member of the 10X10 initiative, and the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce. He also does some work as a field Archaeologist. He is also a fitness instructor and frequent contributor of fitness humour articles to alive magazine, and the proprietor of The Résumé Doctor in Port Coquitlam. You can reach him at home at  michael_broderick@telus.net or at michaelb@neilsquire.ca.

If you’re looking for a change, start with a resume makeover at competitive rates

When he is not doing all this he lives in Port Coquitlam with his partner Cecelia

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