In my life, I’ve exercised in health clubs thousands of times. Never have I ever seen anyone journey to the gym, lay a mat out on the floor, sit down on said mat, stretch for 15 minutes, dust themselves off and then depart for home unless they were going to retrieve their forgotten headphones.
Understandably, stretching it thought of as a pre- or post-workout activity, where the muscles are either being prepared for the training that’s about to commence, or they’re being loosened as part of a cool-down procedure to prevent them from stiffening or cramping in the aftermath of a workout. However, stretching isn’t a sufficient workout unto itself, and certainly doesn’t burn many calories.
How can you say that? Yoga is basically stretching, and yoga is a respectable workout!
Yoga is a respectable workout, and I wouldn’t dare say otherwise unless I’m prepared to eat a Diamond Cutter. However, even yoga guru Diamond Dallas Page once directly explained to me that yoga builds qualitative strength in the bodies of those who do it regularly, which is a very different expectation from stretching. In fact, by comparing stretching with assorted other activities, including yoga, we can see that stretching barely ranks above lying absolutely still in terms of its per-minute caloric-burn rate. This shouldn’t be particularly surprising either; even if an isolated set of muscles is being stretched, the majority of the body is doing absolutely nothing to speak of.
Either way, comparing stretching to yoga is a moot point, because neither stretching nor yoga is going to burn that many calories — and certainly not compared to a training session where you actually move your muscles — and this remains true no matter how aggressively you attempt to cook the data, or the participants. Both stretching and yoga have approximately the same MET value score, placing both of them on the same calorie-burning level as washing dishes and folding laundry.
But I feel things happening when I’m stretching. Doesn’t that indicate that work is being done?
What you’re probably feeling is the sensation of more blood flowing into a muscle and an increase in the amount of oxygen that reaches it. However, that doesn’t involve the burning of any serious calories. Counting up the number of additional calories your body is burning while you stretch would be almost as ludicrous as walking outside in frigid temperatures and counting up the additional calories being burned off while you shiver. You would never do that because you instinctively know there are productive calorie-burning activities you could be engrossed in at that very moment, aside from standing motionless in a blizzard and waiting to freeze to death like Jack Torrance.
I’m disappointed. I thought I was working out by stretching.
Let’s just assume that any time you’re not moving, you’re not working out. This means that stretching should be thought of as an activity you perform before, during or after a workout, that’s inconsequential relative to the number of calories you’ve burned. The bulk of the movement performed when you’re stretching is in those brief moments of time when you’re shifting from one stretching position to another. If your calorie-burning workout is made notable by its near total lack of movement, you should be suspicious of its legitimate value, and consider any claims otherwise, well, a stretch.