Stretching: The Truth
This writing will be supported with points from the articles “The argument against Static Stretching before Sport and Physical Activity” by Kovacs, Mark S. Human Kinetics Journal – Vol 11, Issue 3. and “Acute Effects of Static and Proprioceptive Neuromusclar Facilitation Stretching on Muscle Strength and Power Output” by Marek, S. et al. Journal of Athletic Training (2005).
Static stretching has become somewhat of a ubiquitous activity before exercise, with a large number of athletes electing to perform a variety of static stretches before competing or training. I’m here to tell you that the literature does not support this type of behavior. Before I go any further, I want to make a few things clear: This article is in reference to static stretching, which is a stationary pose being held for a determinate amount of time, and not all types of stretching. It’s well supported that dynamic stretching can be beneficial if deployed properly, as the combination of movement and aerobic activity is much more effective at warming the muscles and preparing the body for activity.
In the article by Kovacs, M. (2006) he mentions that “Contrary to the widely held belief that static stretching improves physical performance, numerous studies have demonstrated that traditional static stretching actually decreases performance in activities that require strength, speed, and power.” (Page 6). Simply put, static stretching is not an appropriate warm-up activity for a wide variety of athletic endeavors. Additionally, Kovacs goes on to say that “Studies of strength and power have demonstrated performance decreases of as much as 30%” (Page 6). This dramatic reduction in performance might be attributed to “… changes in reflex sensitivity, muscle/tendon stiffness, or neuromuscular activation” (Kovacs, M.) In short, static stretching has the potential to “… temporarily compromise a muscle’s ability to produce force” (Marek et. al, 2005).
As mentioned before, I’m not suggesting to not do any stretching before activity, I think the muscular activation and warm-up factors are extremely beneficial. I would just suggest changing your routine to one that centers around more dynamic activities, that engage our muscles in patterns of light aerobic movements to prepare them for more strenuous activity.
It’s also important to say that static stretching has its place in a person’s routine, however, just not before strenuous exercise. Static stretching can be done a few hours before exercise, and is a great tool to improve flexibility and rehabilitate certain muscle groups that have tightened up over time.
So, in summary, please reflect on your pre-workout routine, as there are certain activities that might do more harm than good. Static stretching has its place in our exercise programs, it just has to be deployed effectively. It is much more effective as a rehabilitation tool, as opposed to an exercise warmup and should be treated as such. Focus your pre-workout efforts on exercises/stretches that are more aerobic and dynamic in nature to get your best results!