What's Your Range

You've probably heard everyone make a fuss about being flexible and mobile in conjunction with athleticism and working out. You may have heard that you don't need to be flexible or have an above average Range Of Motion [ROM] for your athletic habits. So which holds more true when we stack the science against it? After all you don't want to sit around and stretch until you're blue in the face for no reason if you don't have too right?

First off range of motion is the bodies ability to pass through certain planes of motion around a joint. That's as simple as I can put it. Think about squatting; some people with poor ROM can't hit parallel, while others can go ham to calf without thinking. Remember that when we observe children they go through full ROM on the squat and only as we age do we lose some of that flexibility. What's shown in research is that in less strength focused sports someone who has greater ROM may actually be more likely to suffer from injury [1]. In other research having too much ROM was not associated as being more preventative of injury as having less ROM. [2,3]

Stretching does what:
What does stretching do to the muscle and tendon? When we have chronic, a significant amount of, stretching we see that a muscle will actually increase in length. Stretching also breaks down the "scar tissue" and collagen built up in the muscle fibers themselves. We get these nasty build ups when the body cannot adapt to a stress, when an injury occurs, and when we change the work output from active to inactive. The reason that collagen and scar tissue is considered bad is that it decreases the ability of the muscle fiber to fully contract and generate power. Less power is less fun. When we stretch a tendon too much we actually make something that wasn't supposed to be very elastic, elastic. Think about your knee being held together by a few very strong rubber bands. Now imagine those rubber bands overstretched and very loose. Now take that loose rubber band knee of yours and go plant and jump around. Needless to say your knee will collapse or buckle; this is why stretching ligaments and joints must be done very carefully if at all.

To Be A Longer, Or A Shorter Muscle:
When we have a longer muscle the body actually can contract that segment of muscle faster. The longer the muscle the more sarcomeres, things that latch onto their receptor to make a muscle shorten, it has and therefore the faster the muscle can contract. This means that the muscle can generate more power and more power is usually good. However as stated above this may actually lead to greater chance of injury when in an uncertain environment. When the muscle is shorter it is less powerful but has greater mechanics and uses less energy to move. Now you have to pick which is better for your goals. A longer more powerful muscle or a shorter more efficient muscle.

Longer Muscle:
A longer muscle would be more appropriate for sports like powerlifting, olympic lifting, crossfit, and possibly the more explosive team sports. Rugby, hockey, and football are all halfbreed's of power and endurance. Therefore it would not be wrong to think that a muscle should be longer for these sports but should not be to the length a powerlifter would go.

At the least you can enjoy this kermit stretch chart

Shorter Muscle:
Shorter muscles would be ideal for a running sport or soccer. When the sport requires long bouts of running with minimal explosive outputs a more efficient muscle would be ideal.

Before you give up on me I have a point I promise. We realize that exaggerated ROM does not prevent injury and may actually make you susceptible to it. We know that a longer muscle is a stronger muscle, or a more powerful one. We realize that a shorter muscle is more gas efficient. You know your hobbies and sports, I don't so you have to decide. Do I incorporate mass quantities of stretching into my program or do I stick to the basic stretches afterwards to prevent collagen build up? As a powerlifter I try to lengthen my muscles and go through full ROM as much as possible. This allows for greater power output and the ability to move through designated planes. For a cross country runner stretching is less important because a longer muscle is a more costly muscle. Change your old habits and pick the one that's right for you.

"If we have two identical runners in a race then the one who uses less energy in each step will win." -Dr. W

  1. Boden et al. 2000
  2. Zuberbier et al. 2001
  3. Emory et al. 2001

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About Me

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BS, MS - exercise Physiology
EPC - Board Certified Exercise Physiologist

Published Thesis
The impact of three different forms of warm up on performance

The Effects of Glucose Supplementation on Barbell Velocity and Fatiguability in Weightlifting - A pilot study"

The Accute Effects Of Different Squat Intensities on Vertical Jump Performances
The Accute Effects of Different Squat Intensities On Jump Performance

Graduate from Midwestern State University, founder of Endunamoo Barbell Club, and Endunamoo Strength and Conditioning. Working to help athletes physically reach their goals and achieve scholarships while spiritually pouring into as many people as possible on all platforms.