From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Readers Respond To Stretching Exercise Commentary

When Ergoweb published a commentary concluding that stretching exercise programs were not ergonomics,
Commentary: Ergonomics Is Not About Stretching Programs–Reprint June 4, 2002, several readers responded with opinions of their own. Here’s a sampling (with some editing for brevity and clarity):

I recently read Peter Budnick’s article “Commentary: Ergonomics is not about stretching programs.” As Ergonomics Consultants we are often asked about such programs and were very pleased to see that our arguments follow along the same views put forth by Dr. Budnick. As further support to our arguments, we would like to obtain permission from Ergoweb to reproduce this article (listing permission to re-print) for organizations that make enquiries regarding implementation of “stretch and flex” programs.

Heidi Robinson, M.Sc.( Ergonomics)
EWI Works
Edmonton, AB Canada

I must protest the general tenor and position taken in the comments by Peter Budnick in his piece on stretching programs.

While the effects of stretching and stretching exercises have not been clearly demonstrated as a positive influence in terms of preventing or alleviating work related MSDs clear evidence has not been demonstrated that they don’t have such a positive influence.

I agree that ergonomics programs wholly based on stretching are likely to be very limited in their overall effectiveness and that the use of a more comprehensive approach will be more likely to yield better results. But that is not the same as saying that stretching programs should be completely ruled out of any consideration which is what is implied by Peter Budnick’s comments.

Again, while I agree that “stretching isn’t ergonomics,” the statement that “stretching is therapy” is not defensible. Various forms of exercise may be used for therapy, but the primary point of exercise is to maintain a healthy functioning body. Of course, training has the added objective of achieving a higher level of performance which could enhance a person’s capacity to do physical work. To suggest that stretching programs are not valid, not essential, and not measurably effective is simply irresponsible and closed-minded. Range of motion has been shown to be directly affected by stretching or the lack of it. Certainly, range of motion is an issue in the conduct of many physical tasks.

In his comments, Peter referred to athletes. Athletes train to perform specific athletic tasks. To perform at their best they train long hours and they invariably include stretching. Many people are limited by poor range of motion. By ignoring stretching, range of motion can be expected to deteriorate and ultimately to limit the individual in physical performance.

I am not an advocate of stretching programs by themselves, but I have done research in the domain of flexibility and range of motion and I feel that the comments by Peter Budnick are not balanced and are too quick to dismiss stretching out of hand.

Pete Stothart, Ph.D.
School of Human Kinetics
University of Ottawa

I just read the article by Peter Budnick, “Ergonomics is not about Stretching Programs” and was astounded. I have been a proponent of Pre-Work Stretching programs for over 12 years and have seen them work well for businesses. To say that stretching isn’t ergonomics and to have such a narrow definition of ergonomics is baffling, especially coming from a supposed ergonomic professional. The translation of ergonomics is “the study of work” – now that can be manipulated into all kinds of definitions…and often is. Stretching programs, done properly, are an excellent preventive measure for businesses. Allowing the body to warm up and oxygenate before putting it to work is so beneficial…and should be part of a good overall ergonomics program. Contrary to Mr. Budnick’s article, stretching programs are not costly. There have been a number of studies done that show an increase in quality and productivity as well as a decrease in VERY costly injuries and accidents. Bodies that are warm and oxygenated tend to function better, more safely and more ergonomically correct. Sounds pretty good to me. This article makes me reconsider your website. I guess all opinions need to be heard, however, I would hesitate before printing something so ridiculous in the future. I feel that professional ergonomists sometimes just like to have a theory or opinion about “their expertise”, that is different from the pack- this would be one of those cases!

Thanks for listening. Denise Baker

I found Dr. Budnick’s article very interesting and an excellent starting point for good professional discussion.

[T]he point to be derived here is that when we consider the question-“Is a program based on stretching exercises really an effective and valid ergonomics approach?”, one of the foundational, core pieces of the discussion is wrapped up in the definitions. Webster defines ergonomics as “An applied science that coordinates the design of devices, systems, and physical working conditions with the capacities and requirements of the worker.” With all due respect to Mr. Webster et al, the working definition I use in my practice is “Ergonomics – The science and art of harmonizing the worker and the workplace with the goal of preventing MSDs and other physical disorders.” I see this as more appropriate because I see a subtle, but significant qualitative difference between this and the traditional definition.

[I]t appears important to make a distinction between “stretching programs” as a general cure-all and occupational conditioning in specific. The key difference between the two can be summed up in the level of targeting for functional issues. In the occupational setting, targeting functional issues entails systematic evaluation of the physiological demands of the job, assessing short and long-term effects of those demands, and devising a plan to address each piece accordingly. A properly devised program, as it specifically relates to MSD issues would seek to increase strength, and/or flexibility, and enhance synergistic relationships thereof in functionally specific ways. [I]t is difficult within the scope of this message to delineate all of the nuances involved, but the “occupational conditioning” as defined above are significantly and qualitatively different, and for this reason I divorce it from just a “go out and stretch a little” type program.

In summary, ergonomics as a scientific venture concerns itself with manipulating variables thought to be involved in developing MSDs. The short term and long term physiological and biomechanical changes in the individual doing the work are part of those variables. Dr. Budnick’s comment that “