Monday, July 25, 2011

Caught in the web of confusion re stretching

I recently received this excellent question that I believe typifies the mess most find themselves in due to the way information is brokered and thinking controlled by those seeking to be the gatekeepers:

Subject: To Ian King, About your article in T-Mag #89 (Lazy Man's Guide..) Please Help

Hello, I really need help about stretching because my mind is a mess because of stretching articles (especially in T-Nation and, forums etc. There are PNF's, dynamic, static; before workouts, after workouts...

My story is this: Last year (2010 May), about the pain in my elbow areas, doctor said that I've tennis elbow. After a long break, I started to work out 2 weeks ago, again. Because I know that I've a problem in my elbow, I worked with light weights. But, after the second workout I felt the same pain again in my elbow area. I went to another doctor this time and he said that I've triceps tendonitis. His recommendation was to do a static stretching after the warm-up (but before weight lifting), 20 rep * 30 sec. I don't really trust Turkish medical system and its doctors but I'm sure he knows much more than I do. Even though the stretching routine he recommended is interesting, I think his diagnosis is correct.

I don't know what to do. A lot of people say "never do static-stretching before the weight-lifting, static stretching makes your muscles weaker" and this makes me think "My muscles and probably tendons are already weak and if I do static-stretching before the workout, can I become more susceptible to injuries?" Lots of other questions arise while reading articles.

What should I do? The fitness world shouldn't be this complicated for a newbie! It's just stretching! :)

Thanks Ian.

xx – I understand your confusion – a product of the information age as I talk about in my video here:

Before I address your email let me categorically state my opinion – any person training who does not stretch, increases the likelihood in injury with each passing day. Of course that is my opinion, however that opinion is based on more experience than most. In fact, I haven’t found too many who have trained more athletes in more sports in more countries for more years. So if you trust experience, that may mean something. If you trust science only, it won’t. If you want to do what everyone else is doing at any given time, it may not.

Let’s talk about science briefly. Lyn Jones, former Australian and US weightlifting coach, said that scientists are historians. I agree. Squatting was not ‘scientifically acceptable’ until the 1990s. Nor were amino acids and protein powders and multi-vitamins. If you were a person who wanted to conform to science you would not have used these exercises or nutrients until the 1990s. That could have been at cost to you in your training had you been at the grindstone for the prior one to two decades.

In the late 1980s, as the first person to do so, I recognized the role of the pause between the eccentric and concentric contractions in strength training. My theory was not scientifically support until the early 1990s. Did that stop thousands of athletes who I trained between these periods from using and benefiting from my hypothesis that they knew to be my three digit timing system? No. Why? Because athletes don’t wait for science to catch up. Science tends to study what athletes are doing to see if it is justifiable. Science isn’t bad. It’s just behind the front line. You need to decide if you want to wait for science of move with earlier indicators.

Now let’s discuss social conformity. You are not alone is seeking to conform. 95% of the population is estimated to share your beliefs. Then there are the trend spotters, who promote training concepts only when they feel there is enough support so they won’t be considered whacky, but not so much awareness that they can still convince the majority they are the saviour, bringing the news to the people. Stretching is the greatest example of this. I have for over 30 years verbally and in writing supported static stretching. The numbers joining me got very thin during the late 1990s and early 2000s when the crowds seeking to stone us got larger. In fact, I don’t know of any other voice who stood firm on this. Now I see the trend spotters rushing to position themselves as experts in static stretching, making and offering ‘how to video’s’ for their commercial gain. The same people who sought the safety and comfort of the dominant paradigm when it wasn’t safe to venture out with an ‘I believe static stretching is great and should be done at the start of training’ t-shirt on.

So you are not alone. You are joined by the masses, and encouraged by the trend spotters seeking to commercially exploit the latest social trends.

Now back to your story. You were sore so you sought to get stronger. You have accepted another popular dominant myth – that if you are injured it is because you are weak. Mmmm. So you sought to strength it and made it worse. No surprise there.

You should go and kiss that doctor. He is a wise man in his recommendation, albeit his strength program is a bit thin on volume.

You are right – the world shouldn’t be complicated – it’s just stretching! I’ve been saying this for decades! Well, in the 1970s and 1980s is was like this. The books were few but there was not fear or pressure to deny the role of static stretching. It was when those who had positioned themselves as experts in training and research were challenged by the rising interest in stretching during the 1990s that they had to delay the inevitable to give themselves a chance to learn more about an area they had neglected, to maybe train so they could have some to and then position themselves as an expert. Well, they have had a decade or so, and now I see they feel more comfortable about the topic, so the tide is turning – the masses are now being slowly given the green light – by the very same people who held up a red light until they could get a handle on it.

So don’t be a bunny. Do what I did. Ignore all advice and experiment in an objective, rational manner on yourself. Come to your own conclusions about training, without fear or favour. Even if these conclusions leave you alienated by society for a year or 2o.

I wrote this in my 2005 philosophy of training book that may assist: *

p. 17… Resist the temptation in program design to conform to mainstream paradigms simply for the sake of conforming, no matter how dogmatically they are presented, or how much you may be ridiculed or ostracized for trusting your intuition over conformity.

And this from my 2005 bok about stretching and dogma…

p. 39… Due to the significant absence of flexibility training in training programs to date, most athletes, coaches and other ‘experts’ have never been involved significantly in a stretching training program. Despite this, and despite the obvious physical manifestations of lacking ability to demonstrate range of movement, many form outspoken and dogmatic positions on topics including stretching

You should really listen to at least part 1 of my Barbells and Bullshit audio or DVD program (I have loaded part 1 of this series on the KSI membership site).

Thanks for communicating. You are an excellent example of the average person torn between conforming with current trends and social pressures, and doing what they intuitively suspect may be best for themselves. Will what I wrote help? Not sure – depends whether you want to be part of the 95% victims of social conformity or the 5% victors.

All the best.

Ian King

* not to be confused with the blatant paraphrasing copies like this since been published in places that I thought had more integrity:

… When designing training programs, resist the pressure to conform to any tradition or system of beliefs, no matter how dogmatically that tradition or those beliefs are presented, or how much you get "slammed" for not conforming]

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The child and the injury - Pt 2

The older sibling was not at our 10 year old team training. He was waiting at the car with him mother, waiting for his younger brother to finish.

The mother said to me:

"Did you know that ‘Peter’* did a grade two strain of his calf on the weekend?"

The boy’s 12 years old. It’s his second serious injury.

I just looked at the ground, bit my lip, and gently shook my head. What could I say? I hear this every day. It’s monotonous. I care about the kids and the family, however we are fighting a losing battle.
I felt like singing a few lines from the song by the band Queen:

“Another one’s gone, another one’s gone, another one bites the dust….”

The weekend newspaper in my city carried a story by a prominent sports doctor stating statistics show sports injuries are on the rise. He stated ‘We must do more’. More lip service, I thought. Like that’s going to happen. I can guarantee you – like taxes – sports injuries will continue to rise.

I had to say something. How do you break it to a mum that most of what her kids do in sport is doing more harm than good? So I said:

“I was just talking about this the other day with my coaches. We were saying how when we were kids, no one got injuries like the kids today. I played sport before school, at every school break, and after school. I didn’t get my firsts sports injury till my first year of high school, and that was a sprained ankle! I played a lot of sport, but admittedly it was play based, not like the formal training the kids do these days.”

Mum reflected on what I said. Then she asked:

“So why do you think this is?”

I responded:

“Adult training is being taken down the age groups. Every year, more adult like training is being done at an earlier age. The adult training is usually flawed. People think professional athlete training is good, so they imitate it. It rarely is optimal. It’s training that used to be done only at adult ages, so the injuries were coming out at about the same time everyone expected the athlete to retire from old age anyway. But now with the same training being imitated at the younger age groups, the flaws in training are evident well before they get to retire, sometimes even before they get to start their adult career! Surgery for sports-related injury before the young athlete reaches twenty years of age is not uncommon.”

I could see the mother taking it in so I continued.

“Playing sport the way it is being done is not necessarily good for your son. Now, your son is in one of the worst sports – soccer. Two things cause this – soccer’s traditional distain for stretching, and the high impact, high volume multi-directional movements on a hard surface.”

Mum responded:

“We are seeing that now!”

And we moved on with our day. Did I make a difference? I’m not sure. The forces of mainstream values in sport are big and strong – and off track, causing more harm than good.

If you have children - and if they are playing sport – have you thought about this? Are you wondering whether what they are doing is doing more harm long term than good? You should be.

* Not his real name

The child and the injury - Pt 1

There we were, ten or so ten year old boys and myself – in the middle of the oval, in a circle – conducting the pre-training stretching routine as I do. As I have done for over thirty years. Obviously it has evolved somewhat, and this version is adapted to the age group and time frame of the training session.

An older sibling, a boy of twelve years of age, often participates in part of the training with us. He was sitting with us in the circle, but not participating.

My attention was atypically drawn from my own stretching to the status of this boy. I said:

“What are you doing? Why are you not joining in?”

A lot nicer than I would have been with a regular player in any team I work with, and especially an adult athlete.

He said:

“I can’t.”

Genuinely perplexed, I asked:

“What you do you mean ‘you can’t’?”

He said:

“I can’t. I’m not allowed to.”

Wishing to understand him more fully, I continued my questions:

“What do you mean you are not allowed?”

What he was about to say floored me. Luckily I was on the ground anyway!

“I’m can’t stretch before a game. My physiotherapist said so.”

Knowing how inflexible this athlete was, and how much I felt he need to stretch, I continued:

“Why have you been told that?”

To which he said:

“I don’t’ know. They said it was bad for me, and so I can’t do it.”

I did my best to encourage the boy to give stretching a go, but I could see his heart was not in it.

I shook my head and went back to focusing on my team’s needs.

After all, the boy had already had surgery on one knee….