I talk a lot about strength training because the benefits are clear to me. Many people with neck and shoulder pain, hip pain, sore muscles, however, intuitively stretch for pain relief. We don’t think of strength training as beneficial when it comes to injury.

In fact, many of our clients will cite not stretching enough as a reason for their aches and soreness. Today we want to discuss strength training vs. stretching exercises, and which is better for you.

What is strength training?

To start, I think it’s important to set some parameters for our discussion. Strength training is an approach to exercise in which the end goal is to increase muscular strength. Virtually all strength training utilises resistance training.

Resistance training is a type of exercise whereby muscles contract against a resistance. Some people consider resistance training and weight training as synonymous. However, this is not always the case. For example, resistance band exercises or even TRX exercises are considered resistance training even though no weights are involved.

Resistance training is a type of exercise while strength training is more of an approach to exercise.

What is stretching?

You probably already know what is a stretch and will have no difficulty demonstrating one. It is a popular treatment for pain and is often prescribed by physiotherapists. In Singapore, we have a new player in the musculoskeletal care industry and they are none other than the stretch therapists.

Sketch therapist became a thing when Dr Stretch came to Singapore. They have outlets at Suntec City, Nex, Orchard Central, and SingPost Centre.

According to their website, you only need to lie down on the bed. Their stretch therapist will do it all. They charge either $210 or $190 for two hours.

PEACE and LOVE protocols

When it comes to acute sports injury or any acute injury for that matter, the RICE or POLICE protocols are no longer recommended.

The latest research supports PEACE and LOVE.

  • Protection
  • Elevation
  • Avoid anti-inflammatories or NSAIDs
  • Compression
  • Education
  • Load
  • Optimism
  • Vascularisation
  • Exercise

Why am I telling you this? Contrary to what most people believe, stretch was NEVER recommended when it comes to managing injuries. Load, while not exactly strength training, is preferred. As far as injury prevention goes, stretching also has a very limited, almost non-existential utility. More on this later.

Strength training helps with injury prevention

The benefits to strength training are plenty. The most obvious being an increase in muscular strength.

Strength training also increases bone density and muscle mass, and helps with weight loss. Believe it or not, it also reduces risk of injury.

A 2014 study looking at the effectiveness of exercises at preventing sport injuries found that strength training reducing injury rate by up to 69%.

Stretching? Only a mere 4%. Shocking, no? As a society, we think stretching is the answer while in fact stretching has very little benefit.What about flexibility?

Does stretching increase flexibility?

We all know what it feels like to have ‘tight’ muscles. Your range of motion decrease, you start to experiences aches and pain. Your work productivity decreases. What do you do?

You take a couple of deep breaths, you move yourself into a position where you can feel a stretch in the affected muscle. After holding the stretch for a few seconds, you relax, and you instantaneously feel more loose.

Does stretching increase your range of motion? It actually does. No surprises there, you think?

A study in 2012 found that a static stretch does indeed increase your range of motion. However, the increase is not what you think. Most of us attribute the improvement in range to a reduction in muscle tension (i.e. our muscles becoming less tight). This is not the case.

The increase in flexibility is due to an increase in your TOLERANCE to the stretching sensation. How crazy is that? There is no real change.

Stretching REDUCES performance

That is not all the study found. Stretching prior to exercise is associated with reduced muscle strength and poorer performance in sports like running and jumping. In fact, strength loss associated with static stretching is well documented and it is referred to as “stretch-induced strength loss”.

From what we know, there are no benefits of stretching.

What about dynamic stretching?

We have already known that research doesn’t support stretching for a while now.

So far so that the pro-stretch group has looked into other form of stretches such as the dynamic stretch. Do they work?

We can’t be certain but it does seem to have some positive benefits.

Examples of dynamic stretching are walking leg swings, high knees, bear crawls. Some may argue that these are more alike to exercises than they are a stretch.The good news though. There is no seems to be no negative effect on performance.

What is a good strength training program?

When it comes to strength training, I personally favour the 5×5 routine by Stronglifts. It is a free workout planner that is easy to follow.

There are only five exercises in the program – squat and deadlift for the lower body as well as bench press, overhead press, and bent-over row for the upper body. Each workout has only three exercises and the recommended frequency is three times a week.

It is a simple workout that trains all major muscle group. It will help you build muscle and at the same time avoid injury.What is a good strength training workout for a beginner?

If you are new to strength training, the Stronglift routine will still work for you. You may want to opt to take it easy with the progression. Adding 2.5kg every other workout may not be a bad idea.

We highly recommend beginners start with free weights training. Unlike machines, free weights do not force your body to conform to unnatural movements. This means you have 100% control of where the weights are going, which in turn allows you to work your muscles harder.

What is the best strength training to do without equipment?

As a beginner, it is possible to get away with strength training with minimal equipment. The purpose of strength training is to increase strength. As such, once you have reached a certain proficiency in your training, your own body weight might not be enough resistance for you to increase muscular strength.

  1. Bodyweight squats. If that’s too easy try one leg box squats or even pistol squats
  2. Nordic curls.
  3. Push ups, incline push ups, one hand push ups
  4. Overhead press. You might be able to do them at one of public outdoor spaces
  5. Pull ups

Proper technique vs good form

It is common in Singapore to hear people talking about good form. Personal trainers, chiropractors, and even physical therapists tend to be quite prescriptive about how you should lift.
Common recommendations are:
  • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart
  • Your knees shouldn’t cross your toes
  • Make sure the back is neutral and not rounded

While these are good guidelines to follow, don’t be dishearten if you struggle to achieve that.

To date, there is no research to suggest that any of the above is bad for you.

When in doubt, seek profession advice. Make sure you seek out a good chiropractor or personal trainer.

Choose strength training

Again, I understand it’s not intuitive for us to choose strength training over stretching. However, current concepts in muscle stretching does not suggest that there are any benefits to it.

Most people think if you stretch enough, you’ll regain your flexibility or full range of motion. Again, research also doesn’t support that.

Strength training, on the other hand, comes with multiple benefits. The most important of all is the injury prevent advantage. Doesn’t matter if you are doing aerobic exercises to lose weight or hypertrophy training to build muscle, strength training is good for your muscles and joints.

It can benefit you.

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