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]


  1. I don't even know if you answered his question. lol.

  2. Hi Ian, I just found your blog and enjoying it. I want to speak to your reader's question. I have been practicing and teaching Anma, an ancient style of Japanese massage and bodywork for 20 years. There is a large focus on the alignment and health of joints which you speak to in your blog.
    Regarding your reader's dilemma of tennis elbow, stretching will definitely help in relieving some pain. Knowing what I know about joint health and alignment, I could speculate somewhere along his spine is a subluxation. Probably in the neck or upper back the vertebrae are "tweaked".
    I went to visit a neighbor the other day and she was complaining about this sudden pain in her elbow when she was doing some house work. I palpated her neck and sure enough there was a very painful spot in C-4. First I showed her some neck stretches which immediately gave her some relief.
    I did some soft tissue work which gave her even more relief. I recommended she come see me for deeper work and even go to see a chiropractor to realign that area.
    See, when vertebrae or joints are out of alignment, as you pointed out, there is a good chance of experiencing nerve pain. Muscles and tendons get stretched and stressed. Just think about if your bicycle's derailleur is off. It will stress the chain and over time wear down the parts.
    If you think about it, if your vertebrae are out of proper alignment, it will affect corresponding joints. Neck vertebrae is out of alignment ---> shoulder joints are out --> elbow is out --> tennis elbow pain.
    I'll be writing more on these subjects and look forward to reading more on your blog.