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The Loop

The Loop

Sometimes stretching won't help

April 26, 2014


If you've followed my fitness posts for some time, then you probably know I'm a huge fan of Ben Shear (@ben_shear) and his take on exercise physiology. For those of you who don't know him, he's one of the top fitness consultants on the PGA Tour and an advisor to Golf Digest. Ben's approach is to use logic and take some of the mystery out of what you need to do to be fitter and healthier. One topic we've discussed many times, and Ben has lectured about, is stretching.

In his view, stretching is pointless if your body lacks stability. You'll never increase your range of motion without it. Here's what he recently told me:

"Many people who lack mobility have a feeling of being tight, so they incorporate stretching into their workout routines. Unfortunately, no matter how much they stretch, they still feel tight. Why? In many cases, it's because the 'tightness' is the body's way of protecting itself from an inherent lack of stability—not mobility. Luckily, the human body is designed in such a way that all its components work together to keep itself out of positions that create a high risk of injury."

To prove Shear's point, picture what would happen in an extreme case of instability—trying to swing a golf club on a sheet of ice (an unstable surface). If the brain sensed the instability, it would automatically reduce overall mobility, and you would only be able to make a tight, restricted swing. If you tried to make a normal swing, you'd end up on your butt, he says.

"This proves that 'tightness' itself is not always the consequence of limited mobility, but can be the solution to the potential danger of taking a joint or muscle beyond where it is safe to take it."

If you want to test Ben's thoughts on stability, try to do a full butt-to-the-floor squat. If you can do it, your lower body was stable and let you tap into your full range of motion. But if you struggled to do it—your knees wobbled, your butt wouldn't drop all the way down—then try this: Lie on your back and raise your knees up to your chest. I bet you could do this with little difficulty. This knees-up position simulates a full squat. And the reason you could now do it was because your body was in a stable position with your back resting on the ground. This is why the single-leg squat is a much harder exercise than doing leg presses while sitting in a machine. You're relying on your own lower-body stability to get the job done versus getting help from the platform.

It's something to think about the next time you stretch. You might be wasting your time.

Ron Kaspriske is the fitness editor of Golf Digest.

(Photo by Alfredo Estrella/AFP/Getty Images)