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Static Stretching News

October 18, 2010 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

Many of us are familiar with static stretching from our elementary, middle school and high school years. In my own experience, I can vividly recall starting off each physical eduction (P.E.) period engaging in a series of stretches that we’d have to hold in place for about 30 seconds or so. The idea behind this ritual was that the stretching and holding helped to lengthen and warm-up the isolated muscles being targeted. The expected result was an improvement in physical performance and a reduction in the risk of injury. However, a series of recent scientific studies did not bear out these expectations. That’s why my Healthy Monday tip of the week is re-evaluate how you stretch and warm up before your work-out.

I’m fully aware that some of the exercise enthusiasts and experts in the crowed may take issue with today’s analysis and commentary about static stretching. To them, I simply ask that they consider the research presented below. My only objective is to help exercisers everywhere derive the greatest benefit from the effort they put forth.

Static Stretching and Gymnastics - A new Italian trial examined the relative benefits of acute static stretching vs. a typical warm-up on leaping performance in a group of 38 gymnasts. Two measures of leap performance were employed: an optical acquisition system known as OptoJump and the scoring of a panel of gymnastics judges. According to both measures, static stretching was found to negatively impact leaping performance. Perhaps this is why a recent survey of “elite and sub-elite” gymnasts reveals that dynamic flexibility exercises and a slow run, rather than static stretching, are the preferred form of precompetition preparation. (1,2)

Static Stretching and Running - A paper presented in the September 2010 issue of the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research examined the effects of stretching vs. no stretching in a crossover study involving 18 men. All of the participants took part in a basic warm-up routine consisting of a self-paced run, hurdle drills and sprints followed by static stretching or not. Directly after the respective warm-ups, they were required to perform two 100 meter sprints that were timed at the 20, 40, 60 and 100 meter marks. The results of the experiment revealed that static stretching “significantly slowed” sprint times at the 20 – 40 meter mark. This time was not made up later in the sprint. The authors of the trial concluded that “in strict terms of performance, it seems harmful to include static stretching in the warm-up protocol of collegiate male sprinters in distances up to 100 m(eters)”. (3)

Long distance runners may also want to reconsider static stretching. A current trial conducted at the Department of Nutrition, Food and Exercise at Florida State University, Tallahassee, reports that runners who didn’t stretch performed better in a 60 minute treadmill run. The details are as follows: On non-stretching days, the study volunteers were asked to sit quietly prior to running. During the stretching days these same runners were directed to follow a 16 minute series of static stretches focusing on the lower body muscle groups. The final analysis revealed that “stretching before an endurance event may lower endurance performance and increase the energy cost of running”. (4)

Static Stretching and Soccer - Three recent trials question the utility of static stretching in soccer players. The first compared two different styles of stretching (dynamic vs. static) in relation to agility enhancement. In this instance, static stretching was not associated with a detrimental effect on agility performance if it was combined with a dynamic warm-up. On the other hand, dynamic stretching during the warm-up was deemed most effective as preparation for agility performance. The second investigation recorded differences in “repeated-sprint ability” (RSA) in soccer players who practiced static stretching as part of warm-up routines prior to timed sprints. The outcome indicates that “performing static stretching for 3 consecutive days” did not positively impact RSA. The final study, which investigated “specific motor skills related to soccer performance”, determined that both dynamic stretching and warm-up only practices were superior to static stretching. The researchers conducting the trial theorized that an increase in heart rate may be responsible for the noted superiority of these alternative pre-exercise techniques. (5,6,7)

Static Stretching May Impede Running Performance
Source: J Strength Cond Res 24(9): 2274-2279, 2010 (link)

The obvious question that comes to mind is this: What form of warm-up should be used instead of static stretching? The answer is – dynamic stretching motions. This is a form of stretching that emphasizes movements that span the typical range of motion used during the exercises that are to follow. In addition, a recent trial employing a faster paced form of dynamic stretching found even better results when compared to slow dynamic stretching. Two other viable options include basic warm-up exercises such as running in place and short duration massage (10 – 30 seconds) of the muscles in question. (8,9,10)

All of this is not to say that static stretching has no place in the exercise and physical therapy arena. For instance, some research does suggest that stretching in a static format may reduce the likelihood of muscle strains. But even static stretching proponents acknowledge that more research is needed to determine effectiveness in a real world setting. The main point being made by the most recent evidence available is that static stretching needn’t be a prerequisite part of a warm-up routine. In fact, there are likely better ways to prepare for exercise sessions. Making this simple change may not only save you time, but may also improve the quality of your work-out. (11,12,13)

Be well!

JP

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6 Comments to “Static Stretching News”

  1. anne h Says:

    Good info!
    I hardly ever stretch the “old school” way!

  2. JP Says:

    Anne,

    As always, you’re ahead of the curve. Well done! :)

    Be well!

    JP

  3. Mark Says:

    All my warm ups are dynamic type of stretching. I may use static stretching after my workout when the muscle are totally warmed up and full of blood.

  4. JP Says:

    That sounds like a good approach, Mark.

    Be well!

    JP

  5. Seth Jared Says:

    Kudos on the information about static stretching! This is a great post. I am a non athlete who was always getting injured going to places like LA Fitness or Ballys. The trainers there always had me doing the same 5 minutes on the bike and some static stretches. 6 months ago I started training with these guys who had me doing a dynamic warm up and it is absolutely fantastic. I am no longer sore or injured when I work out, my explosiveness is up, and I am more flexible. Of course the actual workouts were designed better too. The point is I learned that static stretching is bad news. On the other hand, not stretching at all is bad news too. But it’s hard to find good info on dynamic stretching. There’s also a lot of conflicting information. Even if a fast dynamic warm up tested well it’s still not the right way to do it. Why? Injuries. I’ve seen a ton of videos on youtube with guys doing butt kickers and fast jogging in place right in the beginning of the warm up, and that’s not the best thing to do. A warm up needs to be a warm up, not a cardio/pump session like P90x. There has to be a progression of moves that build on each other to really open up the whole body in a natural way. Our warm up is very progressive and steady, yet challenging. I definitely recommend a full dynamic warm up and not just running in place before a workout. That’s how most pro sports teams do it, and it made a huge difference for me.

  6. JP Says:

    Excellent information, Seth. Thanks for sharing your experience with us!

    Be well!

    JP

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