Static Stretching Prior to Sport
I get asked all the time in clinic from patients about static stretching, when to do it, how long, and how often. This prompted me to update my physio facts whiteboard in my treatment room with an interesting comment about static stretching and everyone lost their mind! The fact stated:
“Studies have shown that static stretching can reduce explosiveness and maximal power output. These effects can possibly last up to 24 hours”
This is definitely controversial, because so many people love stretching! However, it makes sense if you think about it. Most sports are explosive, multi directional, and dynamic in nature. So, in your preparation, you would be doing the opposite of what you are trying to achieve if you are holding static stretches that ultimately relax the muscle. Remember, you are soon about to go and do the exact opposite out on the track or sporting field! Thus, static stretching prior to a lot of sporting activities does not make sense from a physiological point of view, or psychological.
If you are preparing for a competition, or training session in sports such as athletics, soccer, rugby league, basketball, cricket, swimming etc. you want to make sure you have done things as part of your preparation that mimic the actions of your sport. This can build in intensity progressively as you warm up. Now if you can’t come to terms with what has been said above, there is some good news. Holding a gentle static stretch for a short period of time probably won’t be much of an issue. But as said before, you could probably be doing so many better things with your time!
What about Static Stretching Prior to the gym?
I also get asked all the time from people that go to the gym regularly about stretching prior to weight training, and I always give the same response. If you have 30-45 minutes to workout, I presume you are trying to do things that give you the best bang for your buck. If you spend 15-20 minutes stretching, you probably are not going to achieve a lot.
What is important to note, is that stretching does not increase muscle length. In actual fact, strength exercises that go into end range eccentric loading (where the muscle is at full stretch) will not only improve your strength, but muscle length as well. It’s a 2 in 1 deal! Examples of exercises that can achieve this are Romanian dead lifts, Bulgarian split squats, and calf raises on a step. Just think of the added stretch you feel in your muscles when doing these exercises under a load!
Should You Ever Static Stretch Then?
It depends! If you enjoy doing this type of stretching, then there is absolutely no harm in doing it! The only time I tell patients not to static stretch is when they have tendon pain, or early on in a muscle injury, as this can actually further irritate the tissue.
For those without injuries, the best timing would be after your sport/activity. Any active form of recovery, such as stretching, swimming, or gentle cycling can reduce post activity muscle soreness quicker.
If stretching is your choice, the timing isn’t so important. Do it as long as you feel necessary. I generally advise to hold for 20-30 seconds, but it is entirely up to you!
My Final Thoughts About Static Stretching.
- Static stretching for short periods of times probably won’t reduce your performance. However, there are so many better things you could be doing with your time in a warm up.
- If you are looking to improve your flexibility/muscle length, strength training through full eccentric ranges under load will achieve this (e.g., Nordic Curls), static stretching will not.
- Static stretching does not reduce your risk of injury!
- Static stretching is best utilised post workout. It will reduce muscle soreness and markers of muscle damage. Other forms of active recoveries include hydrotherapy and cycling.
- If you enjoy static stretching, and aren’t so fussed about performance, then there is no reason why you should stop! Everyone loves holding a stretch from time to time. This article’s purpose is to explore different views based on the literature available on stretching, warm ups, and performance.
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