This is one of the biggest debates in fitness.
Should you static stretch?
Will it decrease your performance?
Does it cause injury?
Some research has been done with varying conclusions.
Taking an evidence based approach to fitness is very important, but even more so is ensuring you look after the individual.
Does Static Stretching Decrease Performance?
There are quite a few studies that look at the effect of static stretching on performance. The theory is that prolonged static stretching will lower your ability to produce force and mean you won’t perform as well in strength and power activities.
One study indicates muscles are back to normal after ten minutes and indicate no effect on the power performance, another study showed decreased results for up to 24 hours!
There are many others with varying results, these are just two of the most recent.
In general, a lot of the studies that show a decrease in performance have the subject stretch for 30 seconds or longer, and then perform a strength or power exercise right away. The reality is that in real life we stretch for a much shorter time and usually follow it up with some dynamic flexibility, mobility, warm up sets or movement specific exercises. There is usually more than 15 minutes between stretching and the actual activity you are under taking, and it is preceded by a lot more good activation stuff. This is a very real difference that can’t be discounted.
If you are performing stretches for a short time (10 to 15 seconds) and following up with some more movement specific exercises, then you probably won’t see a decrease in your performance and you can help your joint range of motion. However, if you are participating in a pure power sport such as sprinting or long jumping, you are best to stick to a good dynamic warm up routine in case you are one of the individuals that does lose power.
Does Static Stretching Cause Injury?
If you are performing short duration stretching and making sure your muscles are warm afterwards, then no, it does not increase the risk of injury in any activity.
Incorporating some static stretching into your warm up routine (preferably at the beginning), along with some dynamic stretching and mobility can help to prevent injuries. Increasing your joint range of motion before participating in a power activity will contribute to a lot less tweaking of the muscles. This touches on the first point in that static stretching in real life is not done directly before the powerful exercise. If you make sure you get some dynamic stretching and mobility work in after it, it can actually be highly beneficial.
The Verdict: When Should You Static Stretch
I am keeping with my generally philosophy of individuality. Read these recommendations and keep that in mind. Everyone is different and you need to asses where you are on the scale before diving into pre determined routines.
Not everyone is going to need to static stretch at all.
- If you are already hyper mobile, you absolutely do not want to stretch beyond a normal laxity.
- Women in general are more flexible than men, so might not need to do as much static stretching, however I know a lot of tightly bound women, I am one.
The number one thing you need to remember when you take any of my recommendations (not just about stretching) is seeing how you feel after stretching. Nothing I say is a one size fits all plan. Test out some static stretching routines, try a good dynamic warm up and see what gives you the best results. You will very quickly get to know your own body and be able to make better choices and decisions.
Static Stretching Pre Workout
If you struggle with flexibility and joint range of motion, the chances are you need to be incorporating a little static stretching into your workout. HOWEVER if you are participating in a pure power sport, lifting weights or sprinting and jumping I advise you to stick to a good dynamic warm up routine. This will ensure you get that range of motion needed without the possible adverse affects. Here are 37 good dynamic warm up exercises you can try.
There is nothing worse than doing power movements through a crappy range of motion. Not only will you not get the gains you want, you will also be compromising your technique and that can lead to injuries. Make sure you get some range of motion work done before you start your workout.
Remember: Static stretching is not substitute for a dynamic warm up, it’s an addition. Static and dynamic stretching are both important, and you should definitely have a larger dynamic component pre workout no matter what activity you are doing, but a few clever static stretches at the start of the routine won’t hurt, and will definitely help a lot of people. Keep them around 10-15 seconds and alternating sides to avoid any problems if you want to add them in.
Static Stretching Post Workout
This is a chance to get some longer duration stretching in, and although there is conflicting evidence as to whether it helps with recovery or not, I sure a heck feel better after doing it and you probably will too. So I’m going to firmly recommend it. It’s another great chance to really get some more range of motion in your joints, relax those muscles after a workout and simply to calm your body down in general. I tend to pick four or five stretches and do some longer duration work, 30 seconds plus on each side.
You should also try to get some stretching in before bed. It really is very relaxing and I know will help you get a better sleep.
4 Static Stretching Mistakes That Can Be Painful
1. Stretching When You Are Hyper-mobile
If you can take your joints through a crazy range of motion, please do not stretch them even further. If you are loose jointed, take it easy on the static stretching, it will only make things worse and put you at risk for a ton of problems. If you are feeling tight but are already very mobile, have a think about doing some work with a tennis ball. It’s probably trigger points that are causing you problems, not a lack of flexibility in the muscle.
2. Stretching Your Lower Back
Some things don’t need to be stretched, and your lower back is one of them. The lower back is a joint designed to be stiff. If you feel tight in the lower back is is likely you have some trigger points and you need to get rid of them. Try using a tennis ball to work on your glutes and your QL. Stretching will actually just aggravate the back and make you tighter.
3. Stretching Through Pain
If you feel pain when you are stretching you are doing it wrong. Not only are you doing it wrong you are probably aggravating a pre existing injury. You should feel a slight discomfort because you are stretching the muscles, but absolutely no pain.
4. Not Keeping Neutral Spine During Any Kind Of Stretch
This goes hand in hand with point number 2. It is really important to keep a neutral spine during all stretches. Remember, just because you are bending at the hips you don’t need to bend at your lower back. Same goes for standing exercises. When you don’t keep your lower back neutral you are going to put tissues on stretch that don’t need to be, consequently putting the joint under stress and aggravating the back. Whenever you need to bend or extend in a stretch, do it from your hips or your upper back.
4 Static Stretching Exercises You Probably Should Be Doing
These are not for everyone. However, if you sit at a desk all day or work at a computer, you probably need to be doing these four stretches. They really target commonly tight areas that often need releasing.
When we sit down, walk with our shoulders hunched or work at a computer we tend to keep our pec muscles in a very short position. This is a common cause of shoulder and neck pain and can be resolved with some easy stretching. If you want a deeper release use a tennis ball on the area.
Static Hip Flexor Stretch
There is not question that I love a good hip flexor stretch. Take a look at this video to see a few different ways you can stretch your hip flexors.
Your lats can and will get super tight if you suffer from bad posture. Get yourself a pain free shoulder and perform this stretch. You can hold it for as long as you need. If you find you aren’t getting the release you need take a look at this article for some deeper lat work.
Elbow To Instep Stretch
This gives you a hip flexor component as well, but will also hit the adductors and help to open up your hips. if you can’t quite get your elbow to your ankle, don’t worry get it as far as you can to begin.
What stretches do you enjoy doing? Leave a comment below!
1. Takamasa Mizuno, et. al., “Stretching-induced deficit of maximal isometric torque is restored within 10 minutes,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research
2. Monoem Haddad, et. al., “Static Stretching Can Impair Explosive Performance For At Least 24 Hours,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research