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					The Argument Against Static Stretching
Before Sport and Physical Activity
MARK S. KOVACS, MEd, CSCS, USATF II • University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa




                            JTreexercise static stretching has been used        of as much as 30%.'''^'''' Knee-flexion and
                           by coaches and athletes for decades in the           -extension maximal performance (1-RM)
                           hope of improving performance and prevent-           measured 10 min after static stretching were
                           ing injuries. The scientific literature of the       reduced by 7.3% and 8.1 %, respectively."
                           1980s and 1990s suggested that preexercise           Avela et al.'^ and Fov^/les et al.' found reduc-
                           static stretching was a good addition to ath-        tions in maximal isometric plantar-flexion
                           letes' warm-up before initiation of physical         torque about the ankle joint after the plantar
                           activity.''^ This article reviews the current        flexors were passively stretched (23.2 % and
                           literature and provides information to pro-          28%, respectively).
                                                     pose a valid argument          The deficit in performance after static
                                                     against the widely held    stretching might depend on the type of
        KEY POINTS                                   belief that slow static    stretching and mode of activity that fol-
       Static stretching has been used as a          stretching before sport    lows the stretching routine. The deficit has
       warm-up activity for decades, without any     and physical activity is   been shown to last approximately 60 min
       credible research to support its benefits for beneficial.                after completion of the stretching routine'
       performance or injury prevention.                                        and might be a result of changes in reflex
                                                                                sensitivity, muscle/tendon stiffness, or neu-
       Static stretching before activity reduces    Performance                 romuscular activation.'•'^•'^•'* The positive or
       performance in strength, speed, and power                                negative effect on performance after static
                                                  Despite early evidence
       activities.
                                                  that static stretching        stretching might depend on the speed of
       Static stretching before activity does not before activity did not       movement required by the activity In one
       appear to reduce injury.                   improve performance,'         study, a preactivity static-stretching routine
                                                  it remains a common           had no effect on either the speed or the
       Keywords: flexibility, performance, range  element of warm-up            accuracy of an explosive tennis serve,'^ so
       of motion, warm-up                         routines for physical         preactivity stretching might not decrease
                                                  activity. Contrary to the     performance of high-speed or accuracy-
                           widely held belief that static stretching            related movements. Another study dem-
                           improves physical performance, numerous              onstrated that significant reductions in
                           studies have demonstrated that traditional           isokinetic strength were only evident at low
                           static stretching actually decreases perfor-         velocities (< 2.62 radian/s).^ A recent study
                           mance in activities that require strength,           found, however, that static stretching signifi-
                           speed, and power.^''' Depth-jump perfor-             cantly reduced sprinting performance over
                           mance, a good indicator of power output,             a 20-m distance.'" The results of numerous
                           has been shown to be significantly reduced           studies have demonstrated that preactiv-
                           after static stretching,"•'' as has vertical-jump    ity static stretching reduces performance
                           height.'^'" Studies of strength and power            in activities requiring strength, speed, and
                           have demonstrated performance decreases
                                                                                                      (D 2006 Human Kinetics - ATT 11(3), pp. 6-8
6 1 MAY 2 0 0 6                                                                                       ATHLETIC THERAPY TODAY
                Injury Prevention                                         tbe majority of the relevant research evidence
                                                             fails to support tbe concept,* Tbe etiologies of most
In addition to the widespread misconception that pre-        sports injuries involve multiple complex factors. Flex-
exercise stretching improves performance, a second           ibility is one of numerous factors that can affect injury
major reason that many coaches and athletes still view       susceptibility. Both fatigue^* and volume of activity"
static stretching as an important preactivity ritual is      have been suggested as predisposing factors for muscle
the belief that it reduces the likelihood of subsequent      injury. More research is needed to identify tbe underlying
injury. This belief is based on the idea that a "tight"      causes of exercise-induced muscle and tendon injuries,
muscle-tendon unit is less extensible without stretch-       from which we can develop guidelines for training and
ing, which means that its tolerance for elongation           competition to reduce the likelihood of injury.
is lower,'^''^ This intuitive concept has resulted in a
widespread belief that stretching will prevent muscle
and tendon strain,'^ Nonetheless, the relevant research         Practical Applications and Suggestions
literature does not support the widely assumed rela-
                                                             The existing research literature collectively indicates
tionship between preactivity static stretching and the
                                                             tbat static stretching witbin an bour before practice
risk of injury,'^'^^
                                                             or competition does not improve siports performance,
      A study of lower limb injuries among 1,538 male        nor does it appear to reduce tbe risk of injury. Poor
army recruits found that preexercise static stretching       muscle strength and limited joint range of motion,
had no effect on injury rates after a 12-week stretching     however, might reduce performance and increase the
protocol,^" A 2001 systematic review of experimen-           risk of injury,^® Clearly, athletic trainers should pre-
tal and quasi-experimental studies pertaining to the         scribe static-stretching routines for some athletes, but
prevention of lower limb running injuries analyzed           stretching before sport practice sessions and competi-
the collective results of five studies, with 1,944 par-      tive events is not advisable, A better time for athletes
ticipants in stretching-intervention groups and 3,159        to perform static stretcbing is after sports activity^'' or
participants in control groups, and reported that no         in tbe evenings. Performing stretcbing activities at the
clear evidence is available to support tbe notion that       end of workouts or after practice sessions provides
preactivity stretching exercises are effective In prevent-   improvements in range of motion similar to those
ing lower limb injuries,^^                                   from performing them at otber times,''° Other warm-up
      Some experimental studies have shown a reduction       activities, including general musck;-warming exercises
in injury rates when preactivity stretching was included     and dynamic (i,e,, active) range-of-motion exercises,
in warm-up activities, A study of high school football       might be most beneficial in improving pbysical perfor-
third-quarter injury rates demonstrated a reduction in       mance,'"'"^ Although adequate research evidence is
injuries among players who participated in a halftime        not yet available to definitively recommend dynamic
stretching and warm-up routine compared with those
who did not participate in such a routine,^" A limita-
tion in the applicability of tbe finding of this study
is a lack of distinction between the effect of general
warm-up movements from tbe effect of tbe static-                                       10 minutes building
stretching exercises, A retrospective case-control study            Specific           from light to
                                                                                       explosive
                                                                                                                                   Evening
                                                                                                                                    Static
                                                                    Dynamic
of sprinters found that those with hamstring injuries               Warm-up            movements              Generai             Stretching
                                                                                                                                   Session
had weaker and less flexible hamstring muscles tban                      TRAINING/COMPETITION
                                                                                                             Cooi-down

                                                                               ACTIVITY
those of sprinters who bad never experienced ham-
                                                                                                                                       15-60
 string injuries,^' This finding might be misinterpreted                               5-10 minutes slow
                                                                                                                                   minutes on ail
by some coaches and athletic trainers who assume that                                                                    Static       muscle
                                                                                                                                      groups
                                                               Generai                              10-20 minutes on stretching
hamstring weakness and lack of hamstring flexibility          Warm-up'      * 3-5 minutes slow      speafic musdiis                 (depending
                                                                                                                                   on sport and
                                                                                                   used during actii/lty
caused the injuries, Tbe injury might have been the                                                                                   level of
                                                                                                                                      athlete)
cause of the hamstring weakness and lack of hamstring
                                                               Figure 1 Daily stretching routine.
 flexibility, rather than the result.
      Although tbe results of a few studies have suggested
 a link between preactivity stretching and reduced injury    '18, 19, 22, 24, 25, 27-29, 34, 35,


ATHLETIC THERAPY TODAY                                                                                                      MAY 2006
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     SL, Gonzalez-Mestre X, Garrett WE, eds. Sports and Exercise in            MarkKovacs is a doctoral student in human performance at the Uni-
     Midlife. Rosemont, 111: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons:         versity of Alabama and a Level II sprints coach with USA Track and
     1993:105-116.                                                             Field, His research is focused on optimizing human performance.

8 1 MAY 2 0 0 6                                                                                                            ATHLETIC THERAPY TODAY

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