Stretching is an activity that is widely used across many populations including people participating in rehab programs, athletes, as well as the general population with goals of improving range of motion and performance. There has often been a debate of which mode of stretching static or dynamic is more effective. Let’s first define these two.
Static Stretching: Holding a position for a certain length of time usually anywhere from 30 to 60 seconds.
Dynamic Stretching: Moving within a range of motion usually for a number of repetitions in a controlled manner.
When you think about stretching, you must first ask yourself what is your goal? If the answer is reducing injury, sorry if I am the bearer of bad news, but there is no research or scientific data to show that static stretching reduces injury risk. Contrary to what some might think, static stretching does not alter tissue length and only can when performed a lot over a very long time. So why do we like it? Well, if you static stretch and feel better, there’s nothing wrong with that but understanding what it’s actually doing and what it’s not doing is important. Static stretching does not actually cause structural change. It does however, improve range of motion but more so by increasing your tolerance to stretch and boosting neural effects rather than what we once thought.
Why Static Stretching Gets a Bad Name
Static stretching often gets a bad name and there’s some reason to back it up. Numerous research has shown that it only acutely increases range of motion, has a negative impact on force output, and has no meaningful impact on injury prevention. In fact one study looked at changes in hamstring performance and strength between three groups:
-A control group
-A static stretching group that performed 3 sets of 30 sec. 3 x/ week for 10 sessions
-A dynamic stretching group that performed 3 sets of 30 reps 3x/ week for 10 sessions.
What they found was that there was a reduction in all measures found in the static stretching group where the dynamic stretching group found no changes in force or power. However, utilizing static stretching is not necessarily a bad thing but should be dependent on a few things. These include how intense you are stretching and what activity you are performing after it. It’s safe to say that before higher level movement or activity, dynamic stretching should replace static stretching. If you enjoy static stretching by no means will it have a negative impact on flexibility, it’s just not seen as beneficial or efficient compared to dynamic stretching.
When held for longer durations with increased intensity, static stretching should be performed after an exercise session or in a time window greater than an hour from exercise to limit the negative effects on performance.
If the goal is to stretch prior to exercise, dynamic stretching is the way to go. Some benefits of a proper dynamic warm up include increasing tissue temperature, increasing mobility and balance, improving coordination and movement patterns, reducing injury as well as preparing your body for the activity you are about to take part in. The goal should be to perform a movement pattern for 8-12 reps per leg or for a prescribed distance with cues to move through a full range of motion at a controlled pace
Strengthen to Lengthen
Like mentioned earlier, acute static stretching provides more of a neurologic effect than actually mechanically lengthening muscles. Strengthening has been shown to be just as effective as static stretching for improving range of motion and also provides more of a protective effect over injury. So it seems logical that we would be hitting two birds with one stone. Eccentric strengthening emphasizes the lowering portion of an exercise where the muscle is actively contracting while lengthening at the same time. They have been shown to improve muscular flexibility in addition to being great for building strength, so here we are going to get more bang for your buck compared to static stretching. Looking for a better way to ‘stretch’ your hamstrings or quadriceps? Give these a try:
Eccentric Barbell RDL
Nordic Hamstring Curl
Reverse Nordic Hamstring Curl
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