I was watching my older daughter’s soccer team warm up the other day, and I loved what they were doing, until they stopped all movement and plopped down for some good old fashioned static (held) stretching and chitter-chat time. My heart sank.
It reminded me of that same sinking feeling a few years earlier watching the Portland Trail Blazers warm up pre-game. What on Earth were their trainers doing out on the court executing many a held stretch, right before those boys had to go out and perform explosively? Didn’t they read the research?
Research backs up experience
Granted, researchers change their mind every 5-10 years. However, I had personally experimented with both techniques (static- holding a stretch for an extended period of time, and dynamic- moving and not holding any movement for more than approximately 2 seconds) and thoroughly agreed with the dynamic camp as the better choice for a warm up situation. Interestingly enough, the Blazers became infamous for their quantity of injuries that season. Here is what I am talking about, quoted from medicalnewstoday.com:
“Contrary to the prevailing idea that stretching enhances athletic performance, a new study by UNLV kinesiology researchers found that certain stretching may actually reduce performance by decreasing leg power. The study, which appears in the September 2008 issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, investigated how two typical stretching techniques for the hamstrings and quadriceps muscles in the legs affected measures of strength and power in a group of male and female athletes.
Specifically, participants were asked to perform a vertical jump and seated knee flex on three occasions after a typical duration of basic static (holding) and ballistic (bouncing) stretches, or no stretching at all. While little or no difference was found in vertical jump and leg torque, power measures for the stretching groups were significantly reduced.
“Athletes typically include static stretching as a part of the warm-up, but the evidence is clear that this practice will decrease performance in sports that require explosive movements,” said UNLV kinesiology professor and study co-author Bill Holcomb, who directs the university’s Sports Injury Research Center. “Developing flexibility is important for reducing sports injury, but the time to stretch is after, not before, performance.”
Thank you, Mr. Holcomb. This came out in 2008! It is practically ancient history!
The New York Times reported this more recently in April of 2013:
“Those findings join those of another new study from Croatia, a bogglingly comprehensive re-analysis of data from earlier experiments that was published in The Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports. Together, the studies augment a growing scientific consensus that pre-exercise stretching is generally unnecessary and likely counterproductive.
Many issues related to exercise and stretching have remained unresolved. In particular, it is unclear to what extent, precisely, subsequent workouts are changed when you stretch beforehand, as well as whether all types of physical activity are similarly affected.
For the more wide-ranging of the new studies, and to partially fill that knowledge gap, researchers at the University of Zagreb began combing through hundreds of earlier experiments in which volunteers stretched and then jumped, dunked, sprinted, lifted or otherwise had their muscular strength and power tested. For their purposes, the Croatian researchers wanted studies that used only static stretching as an exclusive warm-up; they excluded past experiments in which people stretched but also jogged or otherwise actively warmed up before their exercise session.
The scientists wound up with 104 past studies that met their criteria. Then they amalgamated those studies’ results and, using sophisticated statistical calculations, determined just how much stretching impeded subsequent performance.
The numbers, especially for competitive athletes, are sobering. According to their calculations, static stretching reduces strength in the stretched muscles by almost 5.5 percent, with the impact increasing in people who hold individual stretches for 90 seconds or more. While the effect is reduced somewhat when people’s stretches last less than 45 seconds, stretched muscles are, in general, substantially less strong.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself! Why in the world would you want your muscles less strong before you start exercising? You don’t! It is bogglingly the wrong thing to do! (Don’t you love the word “bogglingly”? I just had to use it in my own sentence! )In summary: dynamic movement for your warm up, please! Have a favorite stretch? Only hold it in 2 second increments pre game, pre run, or pre workout. Don’t be counterproductive.
What about cool down?
Notice the reference to 90 seconds in the quote from the New York Times. Interesting. Remember my habit of tagging along on interesting sounding PT appointments?
This particular PT, whose name escapes me at the moment, told our mutual client that the nervous system starts not only to release, but to reset at 90 seconds. It is my understanding that when you warm up, you are trying to increase the number of NMUs (neuromuscular units– one nerve fiber with one muscle fiber) available, and when you hold that stretch for 90 seconds, you decrease your NMUs and start to quiet your nervous system down.
You can also use this technique for trigger points. Find a hot spot and dig in, but more importantly hold that compression for the full 90 seconds. I am not a big fan of much inbetween. Don’t ask me to hold something for 30 or 45 seconds. That seems silly, and doesn’t do nearly the amount of good as 90 seconds.
2 or 90
Give me good reasons for other numbers because I haven’t seen any.
I am that girl in yoga who is 5 or 6 positions behind in the class, because I want the full release and reset from the pose. Don’t you want your body to learn that new stretched length? It seems to me that is the whole point. However, I have a hard time in Yin yoga. Yin yoga go-ers tend to hold their positions for 5ish minutes, and if it’s a warm room with a good story or thoughtful thought being murmured by the teacher with blankets involved… oh dear. I have been known to fall asleep. During class. 🙂
If the point is relaxation, they did it! I was so relaxed I conked out! It is only mildly embarrassing. 🙂
2 or 90. It is really easy to remember!
Is that how you stretch?
Let us know in the comments below!