Stretching Doesn’t Work! Move Like an Animal Instead
Posted Jun 04 2012 9:30am
You know how weʼve been lead to stretch all these years. Well, funny thing is our fellow
vertebrate animals arenʼt stretching and neither should we aimlessly do so. After all,
when is the last time you saw a cheetah run 60 m.p.h. and pull a hamstring?
There is ample up-to-date research which shows the kind of stretching that we were
taught. The very kind people do in the gym or even the kind athletes at all levels do is
highly likely a “waste of our time”.
Animals don't stretch like we do!
Naturally since weʼve been led down this path, weʼve gotten used to this ritual since it
offers the promise of many benefits. We feel good when doing it because weʼre
supposed to – right. Hmm.
Isnʼt interesting that long distance runners from Kenya do not stretch? Scientists in a
study for the USA Track and Field Association concluded, “static stretching should be
avoided before endurance events”.
Of course when I said the same things to a group of older soccer players, that glazed
look is becoming all too familiar. Even though they are still stiff and inflexible as usual.
One of stretchingʼs goals is to prevent injury. A number of articles and reviews have
concluded there isnʼt much evidence towards that or helping with muscle soreness
So why do we stretch?
People will say to warm up, prevent injury, have less muscle
soreness and have better flexibility. An athlete may go so far as to enhance
performance. Yet in all cases this hasnʼt been proven to be possible. So to do it for
these reasons doesnʼt stand up.
Some of us will stretch to avoid muscle pain. We believe it is good for relieving our
stiffness and soreness from knotted muscles.
If we ever experience a muscle spasm, the “stretch reflex” mechanism kicks. Usually we
stretch and even pull on the muscle to get it to let go. However, it is forcefully pulled
into a position. From a neurological standpoint, the muscle we pulled on, goes back to
its set point because the rate of contraction is a level set from the brain and stretching
or pulling on it does not change it.
If you pull on a piece of steak and try to cook it, how do we expect that to warm up a
muscle. Warming up a muscle is caused by heat or readying a muscle for action. To
warm up is to be both neurologically responsive and coordinated. If your warmup can
do that, then you have help for over-use and accidents.
An easy warm-up is to start doing the activity slowly.
At times we feel some deep muscle soreness from over doing it. The soreness is called
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)… and people believe in swarms that
stretching will reduce DOMS. Even massage therapy, much to my massage friends and
other people who believe this, seem shocked to discover the heretical evidence is not
I know this can be one of the sacred cows, but weʼll soon talk about the wisdom of
animals and babies too.
As far as flexibility goes, how much beyond normal do you want at the detriment of
having less power. Certainly you can push the limits and like some people practicing
yoga, martial arts and highly motivated athletes one can have unique mobility. Yet they
often injure themselves to get the range of motion many people think they need.
For improved performance, stretching has been shown to actually slow us down.
Now our healthy vertebrate animals on the other hand, like our sacred cow, isnʼt
stretching either. Instead it is doing a funny word called a pandiculation. When a cat
rounds its back, which is what weʼve typically looked at. The other side of the equation
is that the cat is pulling in with its belly muscles.
The cat is mindfully contracting a set of muscles and then it release them.
Weʼve known since 1680 that a pandiculation brings muscles to rest. This process is
what is at the heart of somatics exercises which have successfully been used since
1988 to help people overcome physical pain and reduce stress and tension levels in the
When a healthy vertebrate like you and me, does its morning so-called stretch, we are
actually contracting a set of muscles along a certain chain of coordination patterns. The
next time you stretch in the morning, pay attention to what it is you are contracting.
Now you are moving like an animal.
How many of us have forgotten what we began in our motherʼs womb? We all did this
inside our mama, yet we lose or forget this natural ability to reset our own tension levels
of our muscles. We were pandiculating, in other words, we were contracting and then
resetting our muscles.
The set point can be changed through a cortical process where we can then feel the
length and comfort returning as certain tension levels and sensitivity along our
coordination patterns are targeted. So when we use our awareness instead of the force
of stretching, we can let go of tight, stiff, sore and aching muscles – just like mother
When we being to re-experience this counter-intuitive approach, we “remember” how
we used to move when we were young. Since animals will naturally do 7 to 10 of these
maneuvers in the morning and 40 – 50 throughout the course of a day, these
movements gives us back our freedom to move easily, effortlessly and well like an
animal once again.
About The Author: Eduardo Barrera is a nationally certified Hanna Somatic Educator. He has been teaching people over a decade to move like an animal and be free of pain. He lived with fibromyalgia in his 20ʼs & 30ʼs. Now 15 pain free years later, heʼs gone on to win gold and silver medals at the Washington State Senior Games and U.S. Veteranʼs Cup National Soccer Championships.
He offers comprehensive online programs and weekly online classes and a free minicourse at www.GravityWerks.com.
William Holcomb, PhD, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Gretchen Reynolds The First 20 Minutes
Perles et al, A Large, Randomized, Prosepective Study of the Impact of a Pre-Run Stretch on the
Risk of Injury in Teenage and Older Runner, www.usatf.org. 2011
Mabel Todd, The Thinking Body
Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. 1997
Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. 1998
Herman Boerhaave, Praelectiones Academicae. 1680