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Clement Golliet: “Myths of Stretching”

Many people claim that stretching is good to enhance performance and prevent injuries, but there is evidence that shows that this is not always the case. Studies of some team sports have demonstrated that the best athletes are in many cases not the most flexible. This may be surprising, but it is indeed true.

Written by: Clement Golliet

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***Clement Golliet is the newly appointed Director of ACE Fitness and is overseeing the fitness component of all ACE Tennis High Performance programs, is the Head Trainer at Toronto Tennis City and ACE Burlington, and offers private and group fitness sessions for ACE and OTA players as required. Clement’s mandate is to help build the new ACE Fitness brand and to offer leading edge training for tennis players in Ontario.

Clement has a Bachelors of Kinesiology from the University of Quebec at Montreal (UQAM) and possesses various certifications in the areas of private training, spinning, T-Rx, performance, and reconditioning. A former high level basketball player and bodybuilder, Clement also has his French Federation Level 3 in kayaking. Before coming to Toronto to work with ACE Fitness, Clement was a personal trainer, fitness, strength, and conditioning coach at Sporting Club Sanctuaire in Montreal for tennis, basketball, and track running. Clement also has professional training in Clinical rehabilitation and experience as a sports teacher in Switzerland.

If you have any questions for Clement, he can be reached here.***

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Many people claim that stretching is good to enhance performance and prevent injuries, but there is evidence that shows that this is not always the case. Studies of some team sports have demonstrated that the best athletes are in many cases not the most flexible. This may be surprising, but it is indeed true.

For example: a basketball player with tight hamstrings is at lower risk of certain injuries. The knee is more stable (shearing stability), and lengthening them has been reported to be associated with increased chances of disrupting the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament). Additionally, a tighter hamstring acts like a spring and takes full advantage of the passive energy of the muscle.

Mechanically, many sports require a very strong torso to transmit the force from the ground to the upper body (enhance energy transfer). A flexible back in many sports is useless and in some instances can create spine instability.

Even more, it has been proven that flexion and rotation stretching overloads the annulus fibers and exacerbates the spine tissues. For some people back stretching feels good due to the stretch receptors. This provides the illusion of relief which generally lasts for around 20 minutes. They keep doing it thinking that it is helpful, but on the contrary: they are causing more problems which may become chronic until they stop.

On the other hand, if you do not have enough flexibility to operate in the sufficient range of motion (ROM), injuries may occur such as muscle strain, tight pectoralis minor, or piriformis can compress some nerves and vessels and create pain.

Even more, some evidence suggests that asymmetry of flexibility can be linked with pain such as hamstring asymmetry which is linked with back pain.

Some sports such as gymnastics require a lot of flexibility, but if an athlete does not have good motion control he or she can be injured because flexibility without strength and motor control is useless.

Weightlifters have very good flexibility at the level of the hips and shoulders, but not at the back level. Like in almost every sport, power comes from the hips not the back.

To conclude, if an athlete needs an optimal level of flexibility, then it shouldn’t be too much and it should be adequately proportioned. The athlete needs enough flexibility to go into the range of motion that the sport requires but not an overwhelming amount to keep the joints stable with a maximum level of passive energy of the muscle.

A stretching program should be used to correct asymmetry and increase (or maintain) the flexibility required by the sport. It also needs to allow for the best pattern (biomechanics).

But caution about back stretching! Stretching exercises can help some and hurt others, like yoga and Pilates.

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