elitefts™ Sunday edition

An elitefts™ Roundtable Discussion

With Jim Wendler, Mark McLaughlin, Bob Youngs, Alwyn Cosgrove, Tom Deebel, Jason Ferruggia, Julia Ladewski, Dave Tate, and Mike Hope


This roundtable was posted on the elitefts™ website a few years ago. The participants may or may not hold the same opinions today, as much has changed in the field and all know more today than they did then.

Jim Wendler: I always find it funny when I read books and studies knocking the value of stretching and detailing how bad it is for you, but then I read the rehab section of our website and all I see is, “You need to do more stretching and more mobility work.” I remember Bob making a comment about a year ago to Dave saying, “We may have blown off stretching and it may not have prevented all of our problems, but it certainly could have made us a little healthier” (paraphrased by the way).

Stretching and mobility work, if done at all, can be such a positive thing for both athletes and lay-persons alike. Unfortunately, few people want to devote any time—even 15 minutes a day—to developing these traits. They’ll give the television four hours of their time but zero minutes to their own body.
So let’s discuss this, and you can tell me how wrong I am.

Mark McLaughlin: We begin all sessions with an active warm up for 8–10 minutes (sled dragging, jump rope, elliptical, and medicine ball throws into the ground) followed by a dynamic warm-up. Then we move on to hip/hurdle mobility and finally to EQI (isometric lunges, isometric one-legged squats, and isometric push-ups). Our athletes never performed any static stretching pre-/post-workout and had no soft tissue injuries over the past three years. The decision not to static stretch was based on my conversations with Val Nasedkin as well as on my own training. Over the course of 25 years, I’ve never had any soft tissue injury, and I’ve never performed any static stretching. At the Verkhoshansky seminar back in February 2005, the first statement out of Verkhoshansky’s mouth was 'don’t train like a bodybuilder and don’t static stretch.'

Bob Youngs: Okay, I’m really old. If I don’t stretch now and stretch a lot, I’m in pain. I stretch every night and before every workout. I like to do dynamic stretching before my workouts along with mobility work. Every night, I do static stretching and more mobility work. I really like Pavel’s stuff on stretching. I think the bottom line is does stretching make you feel better or not? It makes me feel better so I do it.

Also, the majority of athletes mentioned here are high school athletes. When I was in high school, I could break out into a dead sprint at any point with no warm-up. If I were to try that right now, I can’t even imagine the catastrophe that would occur.

Alwyn Cosgrove: The problem has become one of overreaction (as usual). We learned that static stretching wasn’t the best thing for power athletes (even though I think the studies aren’t great). Smart coaches like Mark studied the information, made an informed decision, and replaced it with dynamic mobility work. The majority of coaches just replaced it with nothing, which was never the message. So now we have kids doing NO mobility work.

In my opinion, flexibility work is necessary. Once you make flexibility part of your program, we can debate what “type” of flexibility training is best. The problem is the majority of programs don’t address it at all.

Static stretching is a tool. I use it. There are times when I feel that it’s useful. In my experience (competitive martial arts), guys used to do hours of static stretching, and they’d kick your head off. I think there’s enough anecdotal evidence to show that it helps athletes remain healthy over the long term.

All of my athletes do flexibility work. That doesn’t mean they stretch nor does it mean they do static stretching. It might mean they just do deep lunges, etc.

Tom Deebel: Personally, I think that static stretching can help keep down myofascial restrictions. I’ve done it daily from 15–25 years of age and was injury-free. There wasn’t much information about dynamic work available back then. Now, I would include both.

Another funny thing, after my car accident earlier this year, I started back with traditional chiropractic work. Somehow, my flexibility is better. I had neglected this and had concentrated on getting ART and myofascial release done in lieu of traditional chiropractic work. My flexibility is fine, and I hurt less. Of course, my training has been approximately two times per week instead of four.

For me, I think dynamic stretching is necessary for a warm-up and appropriate athletic training. Static stretching seems to keep the muscle restrictions down. ART or myofascial work also helps. These can be done as a regular part of prehab if they’re accessible and your finances allow for them. And if you find a good chiropractor, this will help. There are various misalignment problems that a good chiropractor will fix, which will allow for more regular movement patterns.

Jason Ferruggia: Although I agree with much of what Mark said, I’m going to have to side with Alwyn and take it a step further.

First of all, static stretching gets a bad rap from those “in the know.” For example, these people say, “Studies show that static stretching decreases power output and makes you more injury prone.” I’ve heard this more times than I’ve heard Pearl Jam play live and that’s a lot. I even said this myself more times than I can remember. The problem with this is that most of the studies that have “proven” this absolutely suck. Sure, if you hold a static stretch for a prolonged amount of time and then attempt to lift a heavy weight, you will be weaker. Duh...

As Alwyn said in the past, you can prove anything. You can even prove that strength training makes you weaker. I’m all for dynamic warm-ups and PNF stretching before practice, games, events, or workouts. However, this absolutely doesn’t constitute optimal flexibility work. To gain flexibility, you must train flexibility. You wouldn’t expect to get stronger by lifting only three to four times per week for 10 minutes. So how can you expect to get more flexible by doing the same?
Now, before someone argues and says that most of the movements you need to get into position on the playing field are really a matter of mobility and not flexibility (I don’t totally agree), what about injury prevention and stride length? Someone might argue that this involves dynamic flexibility. And I agree. However, I don’t think that studies and real world experience show any correlation between static and dynamic flexibility. I don’t want my athletes taking the field without being able to touch their toes.

I had the misfortune of working with some chronically tight athletes. In cases like these where tight hip flexors and/or hamstrings cause back pain, static stretching is an absolute necessity. It was pointed out that static stretching after training or playing is a waste of time, and I agree. In that state, the muscle is too wound up and tight to receive any optimal benefits from stretching. The optimal timing would be four to six hours later. However, in some cases when I know the athlete absolutely needs to stretch but won’t do it on his own, I may do some light static stretching post-workout. As Alwyn and I often discussed, there is optimal and then there is reality.

I know for a fact that static stretching on it’s own or PNF stretching followed by static stretching (even better) as a separate recovery workout done at night while watching TV makes a huge difference in flexibility gains and recovery.

As another example, I have an athlete who is 16-years-old and has the worst static flexibility you’ve ever seen. He can barely touch his mid-quads. This is a kid who has to do static stretching. There is no study that you can show me or argument that you can make that will change my mind on this. With this particular athlete, we do tons of static stretching before he plays and before he trains. If he doesn’t do this, he can’t even come close to squatting. The key to doing static stretching before activity is to hold the stretch for no more than 10 seconds. Another trick I like to employ is to briefly contract the muscle immediately upon cessation of the stretch. Repeat as many times as necessary.

I’ll use a mistake that I made in the past to end my argument. I had a kid several years back who was nearly identical in body type and flexibility as the one mentioned above. I was in my anti-static stretching mode at the time. He only did his dynamic warm up and PNF stretching, and he actually got pretty good at it. His flexibility looked pretty good after a few months. However, he started to develop severe back problems as he got bigger and stronger. He went to two different doctors. The problem was a simple lack of hamstring flexibility. I was young and naive and believed the “studies.” I decided not to have this kid static stretch when it was apparent that was what he needed. As soon as we started a serious static stretching regimen, he was back on top and feeling great.

I will go with what Alwyn said—if static stretching sucks, why does every martial artist on the planet do it? They all seem to “possess the flexibility of a martial artist.” Or is that a (static stretching like it’s going out of style) gymnast...
Julia Ladewski: Here are my thoughts on the flexibility issue. As everyone else said, I won’t do any static stretching prior to any training. I always do dynamic/movement-related and mobility work. However, as Jason stated, there are just some athletes who need static stretching. In the real world, it would be great to do PNF on all of my athletes, but that just isn’t going to happen. And as much as you tell a kid that he/she needs to do stretching on his/her own time, they’re not going to do it. So, if there is a kid with a serious problem, we’ll spend time doing static stretching post-workout. I find that this is a huge issue with our extremely tall basketball players. We have also found that static stretching relieves most nagging back problems.
I still prefer PNF stretching over static stretching, but we can’t discount static stretching as not useful. Personally, as a “power” athlete, I do dynamic and band stretching more than static stretching, but I still find that static stretching is helpful. To get the most out of static stretching, it has to be consistent. I don’t know how many athletes come to me to get stretched every other day or a couple times a week and then wonder why it’s not helping them. Just like every other training concept, static stretching is a tool. Use it when necessary. It’s not THE answer, but it can be AN answer.

Dave Tate: This should be fun. Let’s see…is stretching important? Let’s save that until later. For now, it’s very important to realize the huge amount of stretching that already occurs for elite lifters.

We will use a squat day as an example. You wake in the morning tight as hell from a night’s sleep. You make your way into the bathroom to “drop the boys off at the pool.” There you go, stretch number one (hamstrings, groin). You also get a great lower back stretch as you reach for a magazine. Let’s not forget the use of the obliques as you wash the O ring. Then you slip on your sandals and head to the gym.

Here’s where the stretching really begins. Oh, I forgot. You get a great shoulder and lat stretch as you reach for your Egg McMuffin at the drive through. Now, in the gym, you get a great warm-up just changing into your training gear. This gets your core temp up so you’re ready to get into your full stretching program.

First—put your shoes on. Chucks are the best for this. This gives you a great lower back stretch because you have to stay bent over for some time to get those things laced up. Second—your suit. This is definitely the most underrated dynamic stretching program on earth. The bending over and tugging on the squat suit is great for the hamstrings and lower back as well as the shoulders. As the suit works its way up, you need to hang the straps from a bar and kick like hell from front to back and side to side (hip flexors, adductors, and abductors). After 15 minutes or so, you’re sweating like mad from this flexibility program. Third—the only thing left to stretch out is the pecs and delts. Well, no problem! All you have to do is get under the bar. Never mind all the scrapes to the back of your head as you try to duck under, just keep going. After a few tries, you’ll be there.

There you go—the best pre-training warm up of all time. Oh, I forgot. The cool down…screw it! You worked hard. Grab a can of Copenhagen and a Dr. Pepper and hit the road.

Okay, is this how I feel even after all I have been through? You bet your ass it is. You may be asking, “How can you say this? Look what it did to you?” Well, you’re right, but let’s remember that I had over 18 years of breaking records before I broke down, and I never stretched. So, now you may say, “Well, maybe if you did, you wouldn’t have been hurt.”

My reply…yes, this could be true. However, maybe I would’ve also lifted 60 percent of what I did do. You can’t change the past or say this and that. You can only look at what was done. While one might say that I wouldn’t be hurt, I would say, screw you. Without the hell I went through and the injuries I had to suffer, I never would have been the lifter I was. Case in point—if I never tore my pec off, I never would see the need to move to Columbus and train with Louie. So yes, I should have been stretching so that I didn’t tear my pec. But then maybe I would still be a bouncer in a strip club with a 500-pound bench. Everything happens for a reason.

Did the lack of stretching hurt my strength? I highly doubt it. That is until the last few years. Now we’re getting somewhere.

Let’s say I needed a flexibility rate of three on a scale of 1–10 to do my sport. Anything over three is really a waste of training time (this time would be better spent training weak points). I was over a three for my entire career until the last few years when it hit a two. When you fall under the level needed for your sport, you have a problem (weak point) that needs to be addressed. With training economy in mind, something has to give for me to bring it back over a three. So while flexibility and mobility had to become part of the training, certain other training elements had to be taken away.

I guess my point is—if it’s a weakness that is holding you back, fix it. If not, focus on what will make you better.

Bob Youngs: Dave, you wrote nine million words and never answered Jim’s questions.

Mike Hope: We must remember that much of medicine in general, and sports medicine in particular, is based on historical precedent. When historical precedents are based solely on hypotheses that have more recently been proven incorrect, the individual must choose to (a) continue treatment (stretching) on the basis of a known incorrect idea of pathophysiology or (b) change to a treatment on the current knowledge of pathophysiology and pathobiology.

Of course, the potential side effect of any new treatment (likely to be unknown) must be weighed against the potential side effects of the historical treatment (more likely to be known). The art, and even science, of medicine then becomes the ability to weigh all of the available information at hand without discriminating the prior information and to be able to judge which is most appropriate for the athlete seated across from you.

Why do most injuries occur during eccentric contractions which cause damage within the normal range of motion? If injuries occur in normal ranges, why would increased motion prevent injuries?

Dave Tate: Perfect! To add a few more questions, why spend time training something that may already be above the baseline needs of the individual or sport when this time should be spent improving a specific weakness that is below baseline (can we say strength)? Who determines what is optimal and what isn’t optimal, and how are sport and individual differences weighed?

Regarding muscle balance, isn’t it true that a pitcher will have one arm stronger than the other? Will a sprinter have the same quad hamstring ration as a fencer? Can’t overuse still be a factor of time in the sport? If someone trains at a high level in a sport for over 20 years, are we to expect that all injuries can be avoided?

Competitive athletics is about performance first and health second. Anyone who says differently is full of crap and has never pushed the body to places it wasn’t designed to go. The bottom line is the body wasn’t designed to compete in high-level competitive athletics. We train it to do what it isn’t intended to do. In this event, it’s safe to say “sh*t happens,” and it’s part of the game.

Alwyn Cosgrove: Dave, you bring up some good points. In reference to your first point, I think it sums up all of performance training for sport. Similarly, when working with a fencer who has a current strength level of six (and he needs a four), your performance enhancement work will involve limited max strength work.

And what determines what is optimal and not optimal? I have no idea. Any muscle strength imbalance around a joint that’s likely to cause injury needs to be looked at though. The topic of muscle balance is a great topic and very interesting.

For your question regarding overuse injuries and time, I don’t think so. However, I’d suggest that the attitude that all injuries are inevitable is flawed. Can better training and restoration methods reduce injuries? I think so. Competitive athletics is about performance first and health second. I agree with this, but I think at least some of the sh*t that happens is avoidable. I have no doubt that some of my injuries from fighting were unavoidable, but I can also say that there were some issues (still remaining today) that could have been avoided.

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