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How Should I Stretch?

The impact of static stretching on athletic performance, injury prevention, and musculoskeletal (bones, joints and muscles) health has been widely debated. To further muddy the waters, the role of dynamic stretching has been added to the conversation. In order to address these questions more fully we’ll take a look at the effects of stretching on: muscle performance, and injury prevention.

Yoga falls under functional training

      Yoga falls under functional training

Static stretching, a stretch held in position between 10 to 30 seconds, has been part of warm up routines for decades. It’s  thought that stretching increases joint mobility and muscle flexibility, allowing for improved performance and decreased risk of injury and occasional and chronic pains. Static stretching does cause a temporary increase in joint mobility by: decreasing muscular stiffness and increasing a muscle’s tolerance to stretching forces.1 However, we find that muscles seem to be less strong after this kind of stretching. In fact, stretches held for longer than 90 seconds seem to be linked to greater impairments in maximal muscle strength, and activation.2

Dynamic stretching consists of slow, controlled movements through a joint’s full range of motion. Walking lunges is one example of dynamic stretching. Current consensus is that dynamic stretching does not impair performance, and may even enhance it.1 Research is showing that longer duration of  dynamic stretches enhance performance in power activities, such as sprinting, and jumping with little to no adverse effects.1 Longer may not always equal better as some studies have shown that dynamic stretches as short as 30 seconds have shown muscular performance improvements in athletes.1

When deciding what kind of stretching regimen to incorporate into your warm up or cool down routine consider the following:

  1. Do you have limitations in muscle flexibility? If your answer is yes, static stretching may help your sports performance. Instead of stretching before your fitness activity, consider a stretching program separate from your regular workout routine to maximize long term flexibility gains. Not sure if you have limitations? Try these at home flexibility tests.
  2. Does the activity you are participating in require maximum strength? If not, static stretches held for less than 90 seconds, or even dynamic stretches will suite your needs. Static stretching should not be performed prior to: strength, high speed, explosive or reactive activities due to its tendency to decrease peak muscle strength and activation.
  3. Does your activity of choice demand flexibility to attain and maintain certain positions? Static stretching has been shown to have an effect on flexibility. Dynamic stretching may not have an effect on the ability of tissues to respond well to the static stretch required of certain activities.3,4,5

Athletes of all levels should incorporate some form of stretching program with consideration of the points above. Static stretch programs performed outside of regular fitness and sport activities may increase muscle length, which may help to enhance performance, especially in those with limitations in flexibility. Dynamic stretching has been shown to increase performance in power activities while temporarily increasing flexibility. Increasing flexibility does not necessarily prevent injury, but be sure to strengthen muscle groups as you increase flexibility to prevent injuries related to hyper flexibility.

References:

  1. Behm DG, Chaouachi A. A review of the acute effects of static and dynamic stretching on performance. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2011; 11: 2633-2651
  2. Young W, Elias G, Power J. Effects of static stretching volume and intensity on plantar flexor explosive force production and range of motion. J Sport Med Phys Fitness. 2006; 46:403–411

  3. Bandy WD, Irion JM, Briggler M. The effect of static stretch and dynamic range of motion training on the flexibility of the hamstring muscles. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 1998: 27:295–300
  4. O’Sullivan K, Murray E, Sainsbury D. The effect of warm-up, static stretching and dynamic stretching on hamstring flexibility in previously injured subjects. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2009; 10:37–42
  5. Covert CA, Alexander MP, Petronis JJ, Davis DS. Comparison of ballistic and static stretching on hamstring muscle length using an equal stretching dose. J Strength Cond Res. 2010: 24(11): 3008–3014.’