The American College of Sports Medicine states that adults should be getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. That is about 20 minutes a day. Stretching is not considered to be a moderate-intensity exercise. So, do we need to add 5-10 minutes of stretching prior to our workout, like our coaches always told us? In recent years, there has been much debate over different ways to stretch and which way is the safest and most effective. There are many different types of stretching techniques, but today we are only considering two types: static and dynamic.
Static stretching is lengthening the muscle while holding a particular pose for an extended period of time, such as propping your leg up onto a chair, leaning forward, and stretching your hamstring for 30 seconds.
Dynamic stretching is elongating the muscle while completing a movement. For example, running with high knees or walking lunges. So, how do we know when to perform each type of stretching?
A strong amount of research supports the effects of static stretching to be performed after a warm up, but prior to your full workout, especially if you do not have the full range of motion to complete the activity. However, there are many current research articles that raise the negative effects of static stretching. One study states, “A longer stretch duration (i.e. >60 s) are more likely to cause a small or moderate reduction in performance,” which could lead you to a higher risk of injury.
Another study looked at performance of collegiate sprinters with and without static stretching. That study found, “ significant slowing in performance with static stretching… Therefore, in strict terms of performance, it seems harmful to include static stretching in the warm-up protocol of collegiate male sprinters.” Looking at this from a broader perspective, if you are want to participate in a sport such as jogging, evidence supports that there is no need for a specific static stretching routine.
● Perform after a warm up, but prior to a full workout
● Hold stretch less than 45 seconds
● Decreases speed and power
● May have little effect on long-term flexibility, and could increase your risk for injury
Research seems to lean towards dynamic stretching as the most beneficial form of stretching prior to any type of exercise or sport routine. In fact, most studies found that it was beneficial to perform dynamic stretching in order to reverse negative effects of static stretching. One researcher group discovered, “ Athletes in sports requiring [leg] power should use dynamic stretching techniques in warm-up to enhance flexibility while improving performance”.
Another research article found that dynamically stretching your hamstrings can actually decrease tightness and improve flexibility over a period of 6 weeks, and therefore significantly decrease low back pain. Not only does dynamic stretching warm up your muscles, but it wakes up your central nervous system which can prepare your body for a tough workout.
● Perform after statically stretching (if you choose this modality of stretching)
● Beneficial for the athlete participating in a sport with less pivoting movements such as swimming or jogging
● Can decrease muscle tightness and improve flexibility
● Helps to decrease your risk of injury
Emily Haglage is a graduate of Saint Louis University where she received her bachelor’s of science degree in exercise science and doctorate in physical therapy. She treats a variety of orthopedic injuries with special interest in knee injuries including patellofemoral pain, meniscus injuries, ligamentous injuries, arthritis and post-operative total knee replacements. She enjoys working closely with athletes by performing Functional Sports Assessments (FSAs) which give physicians more assurance that their patients are safe to return to sports such as basketball, football, soccer, tennis and hockey.