The Truth about Static Stretching

It is widely accepted that a warm-up is vital before exercise. Warm-ups involve doing specific exercises at a gradually increased intensity, in order to get your body primed for whatever activity you’re getting after that day. A proper warm-up increases performance, decreases injury risk and mentally prepares you for the work ahead. In short, a warm-up is like cocking your gun before your shoot it- vital and satisfying, too.  I will talk about the best protocols for getting ready neurally, muscularly and cardiovascularly for training later, (that is a whole other article!). Today, however, I want to make sure everyone knows one thing:

Static Stretching is NOT part of a healthy warm-up:

There are (at least) four types of stretching:

  • Static: Holding a stretch for at least 15-30 seconds
  • Dynamic: Actively and purposely moving through a specific ROM.
  • Ballistic: Moving past normal Range-of- motion (or current ROM), by forcefully loading the movement (hardly ever recommended)
  • PNF: Proprioceptive-neuromuscular-Facilitative Stretching, where you contract and relax a muscle to get a larger stretch out of it.

All of these types of stretching have a time and place where they work best! But Static Stretching – the stretch and hold- NEEDS to be removed from your warm-up. Why?

The common perception that static stretching if important before exercise is not true. Other methods of warming-up are far more beneficial.

Static Stretching does not:

Prevent Injury:

“Make sure you stretch so you don’t tear a muscle!” lets’ replace that saying with “make sure you don’t over stretch before activity!” There is moderate to strong evidence that routine application of static stretching does not reduce overall injury rates.(1)

Active, intentional, dynamic stretching is your best bet when it comes to reducing injury during exercise. So is knowing what movements you need to practice before you exercise. Getting advice from a professional who understands your body and your workouts can help with this.

Increase Exercise ROM:

While planned, focused movements that extend your range of motion (ROM), or even light load bearing can increase your exercising ROM, trying to achieve these results with static stretching doesn’t work(2). In the long term, with a stretching program that is geared toward YOU, static stretching can make a huge difference . But in the short term, before activity, static stretching does not help. In fact, researchers are finding that any percieved increase in range of motion is actually due to the fact that your pain receptors are not working as well. This could increase your risk for injury after static stretching, although no studies have investigated this angle yet.

Static stretching is best placed at the end of session, when you are still warm, but not about to ask your muscles to contract again.

Increase Performance:

A study out of Turkey used a static stretching protocol, a vibration and static stretching protocol, and compared them to a dynamic warm-up in order to determine which warm-up was more effective. The results showed that static stretching had no facilitative  effect on performance. Static stretching did not hurt vertical jump performance, but had no positive effect. (2) They also found that dynamic warm-ups helped the most! And of course, that warm-up needs to be person specific, and activity specific.

A meta-analysis (where researchers collectively analyze studies on a topic) concluded that static stretching should be avoided as the warm-up activity. (4)

Reduce Muscle Soreness:

Stretching before or after exercising does not confer protection from muscle soreness (3). This rumor, along with the reduced injury rate rumor, are the two I hear most often. But research shows no reduction in muscle soreness when static stretching is used (before or after your session), foam-rolling is the most effective way to reduce soreness!

Static stretching has its’ place, but before you use it in your warm-up routine, make sure you understand what you are trying to accomplish, and the best way to accomplish it. If all you do is static stretch, you are putting yourself at risk! I will be posting an article on ‘what warm-up is for’ soon, so stay tunned. 🙂

Cheers,

Alecia Williams

References:

  1. DOI: 10.1080/15438620802310784Katie Smalla, Lars Mc Naughtona* & Martyn Matthewsbpages 213-231.A Systematic Review into the Efficacy of Static Stretching as Part of a Warm-Up for the Prevention of Exercise-Related Injury.Research in Sports Medicine: An International Journal. Volume 16, Issue 3, 2008

2. Yapicioglu, B., Colakoglu, M., Colakoglu, Z., et al. (2013). Effects of a Dynamic Warm-Up, Static Stretching or Static Stretching with Tendon Vibration on Vertical Jump Performance and EMG Responses. Journal of Human Kinetics, 39(1), pp. 49-57. Retrieved 8 Feb. 2016, from doi:10.2478/hukin-2013-0067

3. Effects of stretching before and after exercising on muscle soreness and risk of injury: systematic review. BMJ 2002; 325 doi: http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.lib.ucalgary.ca/10.1136/bmj.325.7362.468 (Published 31 August 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:468

4.Does pre-exercise static stretching inhibit maximal muscular performance? A meta-analytical review:L. Simic1,N. Sarabon2 and G. Markovic1,* Article first published online: 8 FEB 2012. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports Volume 23, Issue 2, pages 131–148, April 2013 DOI: 10.1111/j.1600-0838.2012.01444.x

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