Quaking Quads and the Question of Stretching

March 15, 2008 at 7:30 pm Leave a comment

Doing stairs every day means that I have very strong legs.  It also means that I have very tight muscles, particularly my quads.

The other night, while waiting for my BF to join me on the porch, I decided to pop my leg on top of the railing.  At waist height, it’s a bit of an effort for me to sweep my leg up there.  I did it and promptly felt my quad start spasming wildly.  It was painful, too.  I wobbled a bit before dropping my leg back to the ground.  Nonplussed, I tried the same maneuver with my other leg with the same result.

I told my BF what had happened, and he responded, “Of course.  You need to stretch first.  That’s how people get hurt.”  I initially scoffed at his remarks.  Then I thought about it more and realized he had a point.

The value of stretching has been debated for years: yes, do it before exercise as part of your warm-up; no, stretch after you work out; yes, it’s good for flexibility; no matter what, it can’t hurt; well, yes, actually it can hurt. 

The article To Stretch or Not to Stretch? The Answer is Elastic, while cleverly titled, does little to clear up the confusion.  Apparently, if you’re stretching to prevent injury, warming up is more effective than stretching, according to Dr. Julie Gilchrist, a Centers for Disease Control medical epidemiologist and one of the authors of the study that’s reviewed in the NY Times article. 

Because studies have always involved warming up as well, it’s been difficult to prove the benefits of stretching.  There have not been studies of stretching alone. 

One documented benefit of stretching is improved flexibility.  That’s certainly been demonstrated in my experience.  I periodically do an S Factor exercise DVD that includes stretching prior to the workout.  One of the stretches is done by splaying the legs out in a wide V and reaching the upper body between them as flat to the floor as possible.  The first time I do this stretch, I can’t reach very far down.  The second time, I can reach further, the third time even further.  Stretching definitely improves my flexbility.

I prefer to be elegantly bendable, not painfully wobbly, so, the next time I get the urge to turn my porch railing into a ballet bar, I’ll stretch a bit first. 

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