Prepared by: Bill Leavitt
Rv. 3/07
Rv. 9/07

The purpose of this article is to discuss the facts surrounding Stretching. For most avid exercisers, static stretching, (reach/pull and hold), has become ‘ritual’ … something to be done before and after a workout. By defining, examining, and exposing a few myths, through a Physiological and Mechanical perspective, the reader should have a better grasp as to what stretching really is, is not, yet gain insight as to its benefits and detriment and how to implement it effectively into workouts to create a sound exercise program.

The problem with the words ‘Stretching’ and ‘Flexibility’ or even ‘Limber’ is that they have become marketing terms at the expense of Science and not addressing appropriate needs for the body. It seems that most who stretch, (or those exercise professionals who prescribe static stretching for their clients), do not understand the Physiology of the nervous system which oversees and regulates the lengthening and contracting of muscle, the resulting tendon, ligaments, bursae, and cartilage also involved, causes of chronically stressed tissue, the ramifications of stretching something that maybe doesn't need stretching, or other options available that may address the issue more effectively. As with many things in life, everyone seems to think that more [range] is better and that includes joint range beyond what is required of and accepted by the body. Nothing could be further from the truth. Forcing range beyond established skeletal limits to increase flexibility is detrimental and actually promotes injury. I have a saying: “Just because you can go there doesn’t mean you should.” Truth be told, choosing the right type of resistance training exercises appropriately progressed, through proper and unexaggerated range of motion on regular basis, accomplishes the goal of improving and maintaining optimal range of motion by stretching and contracting muscle efficiently.

Passive stretching (using force {bodyweight included} to increase range of motion be it gravity or self production) is typically performed before or after a workout to ‘loosen up’ muscles, prevent them from becoming stiff, or even address a chronically ‘tight’ muscle. The process of reaching, bending, and holding positions to the point of pain is really quite absurd and self-defeating when you really look at it from a Physiological standpoint. In terms of alleviating muscle soreness, there is no scientific research that supports this and stretching muscles that are not properly warmed up physically or neurologically is a leading cause of injury. In fact, the exact mechanisms of muscle soreness, and why it occurs are still being debated to this day. As far as stiffness or tightness goes, why doesn’t anyone ever question why muscles are that way in the first place? Treating the symptom of tightness without understanding the cause as to why it is tight in the first place doesn’t solve anything.

Why is a Muscle ‘tight’?

How? A muscle gets overused or pushed beyond its current capabilities, gets injured, dehydrated, or malnourished, and is unable to perform it‘s contractile and stabilization duties.

Why? The central nervous system shuts off its transmission signals to protect the muscle and surrounding skeletal from any further injury in order to repair itself.

Then? Motion is compromised yet other muscles will take over the duties for the shut-down muscle so that movement can still occur. We call this compensation.

And? The body senses this instability and compensation around the involved joint and limits motion even further to protect itself from injury.

Inhibition > Instability > Compensation > Protection > Tightness

Muscle tightness is a protective mechanism

Stretching does not solve the problem but only temporarily improves range YET aggravates the symptom

It sounds complicated but it really isn’t. The body is so smart and wired so well that it knows when something is wrong and has the ability to shut down to protect itself. Now ask yourself, does stretching really address this problem at all? If the body is this smart do you think that tugging on a couple of tight muscles will address this neurological protective mechanism that is going on? NO WAY! In fact, all that this stretching does is aggravate the situation even more. And, now you see that it is not addressing the cause of the problem anyway, just the symptom. Sounds familiar right? You have back pain, go to the doctor and he prescribes a pill to ‘mask the problem’. Did it solve the problem? No. Maybe it eliminated inflammation and blocks those pain signals coming down from the nervous system so the body can heal itself, but it did not address the problem itself.


- Why are you stretching? (because everyone else does?)

- What are you stretching? And how do you know?  (there is a lot more than muscle inside of the body that goes along for the ride: organs, connective tissue, fascia, neural tissue, blood vessels, veins, etc…)

- Are there any structural limitations that you do not know about, you cannot see? (bone spurs, arthritis, bulging disks)

- Are you disrupting innate neurological protective mechanisms? (are you persecuting instead of allowing healing)

- Are you just providing temporary results coming in the form of increased but instable ROM enhancement? (more range of motion does not equal improvement)

- Are you qualified or bordering on malpractice? Stretching IS Manipulation! Personal trainers are not qualified to manipulate.

- Think about ROM Training and other options (producing strength in positions of weakness using isometrics, or MAT)

- Resetting the CNS to accept and allow ROM (Isometrics, MAT) I like to call it Neuromuscular Negotiation

- Try other types of ‘stretching’ (PNF, AI, passive, contract-relax, etc.) ... instead of just tug and hope!

Muscles are Disciples of the CNS




A more in depth look:

Muscular Function ~ Muscular Inhibition

- Muscles require proper and precise neurological transmission from the nervous system in order to fire, (contract, move, stabilize)
- Muscle weakness/inhibition, is called a shut down muscle that is receiving none, or distorted, neurological input (due to injury, incorrect exercise selection, overuse, improper nutrition, stress, pharmaceuticals)
- Muscular inhibition creates a situation of joint instability (all muscle surrounding a joint must actively participate and perform given duties)
- Muscles tighten up to protect the joint due to instability (like walking on ice)
- Compensatory patterns develop, (other muscles pick up the duty of the shut-down muscle), causing joint limitation, misalignment, inappropriate and distorted movement patterns
- If left untreated it can become a structural issue due to bad wear pattern on joints. (like un-balanced tires.)
- The weak muscles get weaker and the strong get stronger (picking up the slack)
- Strengthening inhibited musculature is not possible since it’s not receiving proper neurological input. One of the problems with traditional rehab. (You can’t run a car if there isn’t any gas!)
- Identification of muscular inhibition is best identified with manual muscle testing of joint ranges of motion to identify instability and protective mechanisms.
- Activation of muscle utilizing digital palpation at origin and insertion elicits neurological stimuli via afferent pathways.
- Reinforcement of newly reactivated musculature is best performed using controlled, isolated, precise, low-grade isometric contractions.
- Tightness is secondary to weakness. Tightness=Symptom Weakness=Cause

Muscle Activation Techniques

“Functional Training will only reinforce compensatory patterns unless the weak links are not first identified and eliminated” -Greg Roskopf

“Strength is the ability to produce force with control in any given situation” –Bill Leavitt

“You are only as strong as your weakest component” –G. Roskopf

The Importance of Control

You’re only as strong as your weakest position
The ability to control movement at any point in the range
Anybody can move a load from point A to B, that’s not the point!
A crucial element to maintain optimum muscle function and prevent dysfunction
The missing but consistent link in most exercise programs
Comes from CNS and the ability to focus
Training the connection between the brain and the muscle
Motor learning: A motor pattern, (movement), must be learned, rehearsed, engrammed, (encoded), and mastered before it can be intensified
Practice the exercise before increasing the weight
Proper Progression and continued Variation is the key to neurological integrity
Synchronized movement is not possible without progression, intention, and focus
Range of motion without control = Injury
Never add external instability to internal instability (balance apparatus)

The Integrated System

Force > Bone > Connective Tissue > Joint > CNS > Muscle > Heart
Can you have one without the other?
Is there an order?
CNS is always the overriding factor!
The heart is just a slave to muscle demand
A joints structure actually determines a muscles role
Respect of joint structure to maintain integrity
Do not violate skeletal ranges of motion
Cannot have mobility without stability
Dynamic Stabilization

Connective Tissue

Types: Ligament, Tendon, Fascia, Bursa, Menisci
Do you want them to stretch?
Tendons transmit force from muscle to bone…They Do Not Stretch!!! What if they did stretch? Laxity and instability, premature joint degeneration, arthritis
Can they stretch? Pick up slack from resting length, gliding
They limit and regulate motion

RESEARCH & Stretching Quotes (research summarized)

“Joint mobilization refers to movement of the joint through its established range. Joint manipulation is movement of the joint beyond its established range. Consider these definitions when it comes to ‘stretching and the legal/ethical boundaries that accompany your specific professional education, skills and liability. A key for a professional is that we do not treat things that do not need treatment. Understand the difference in procedures for maintaining joint range and improving joint range.” -Purvis

“Although in many instances lack of flexibility obviously limits performance and the voluntary correction of postural defects, experimental evidence indicates that improvements in performance and posture do not result from increases flexibility nearly as often as has generally been supposed. In fact, excessive flexibility sometimes sacrifices desirable stability and support, and may predispose a joint to injury.” -Rasch

“Although static stretching has been found to be effective in causing an acute increase in the ROM at a joint, research indicates it can also produce a significant acute decrement in strength, and power production.” ¹

“As little as two minutes of static stretching can impair power performance.” ¹

“Increasing muscle temperature by submaximal exercise would be more important than stretching for decreasing the risk of soft-tissue injury” ¹

“Given the lack of evidence in favor of static stretching during warm-up for injury prevention, it seems justifiable to exclude this component from the warm-up for strength and power activities.” ¹ Strength & Conditioning Journal Dec. 2002

“There is limited scientific evidence about the benefits of stretching, and recent research is challenging some long-held beliefs about the use of stretching prior to exercise”
–Shrier & Gossal

“If the stretch is perceived as dangerous, the intrafusal fibers contract causing the extrafusal fibers to contract, thus stopping the stretch and preventing injury”. –McArdle, Dalton, Katch ³

l “When they sense too much tension on the muscle, they cause a reflex inhibition of the muscle, causing the muscle to relax thus protecting the muscle and tendon from injury caused by excessive load.” ³

l “A protocol of prolonged, static, passive stretching can inhibit VMC, (voluntary muscular contraction), which may be partially caused by decreases in muscle activation and strength.” -Behm

l “Intense static stretching of the prime movers, prior to a particular skill in which the prime movers would be used should not be undertaken in events that require a maximal strength output.” –Kokkonen et al.

l “The authors concluded that the stretching treatment impaired active force production, which may be because of mechanical changes, such as increased tendon slack.”
- Rosenbaum & Henning

l “Based on this research, it appears that the muscle, the tendon, and/or the muscle tendon unit becomes weaker and is less able to produce high intensity force or has a period of time during which the muscle stays stretched. There appears to be a lag period after stretching, during which, if the muscle is contracted, it must ‘take up the slack’ before the peak tension is reached.” -Fowles et al.

"Stretching through normal physiological motion in the anatomical planes to restore joint motion without addressing joint play is not only less effective, it borders on malpractice.” - Purvis

“The greater the difference between ones AROM and PROM, the greater the opportunity for injury.” - Rasch

“ROM without strength or control = Injury!”

“Muscle contraction or reflex activation of motor units during intentional stretching of a muscle creates a resistance to the stretching procedure and makes stretching more difficult and possibly ineffective.” –Joint Structure & Function

“A key concept in performing PROM for anyone other than a trained health care professional is not to impose range but to utilize the range offered or allowed by the body.” - RTS

“AROM: is the process of performing the ROM independently under the power of the muscles surrounding the involved joint. In the fitness world this ideal for evaluation, functional parameters, and flexibility enhancement.” RTS

Isometrics & MAT™

Iso (same), Metric (length). Contraction but no visible movement
Least stressful and most controlled form of exercise when dealing with injury or limitation.
Reciprocal Inhibition: activate agonist to inhibit tonicity of antagonist
Pre-requisite to isolated strengthening exercises
Gamma Biasing: Stimulation of Gamma pathway for contraction instead of Alpha fibers, (due to lack of movement) Initiates alpha-gamma co-activation. AKA as spindle biasing.
Sets the stage for neurological facilitation and integration
Find limitation and start there. 30% patient effort progressing to 75% of available strength into direction of muscle action. 6 reps for 6 sec.