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Health, Mobility

Static Stretching, Is It Affecting Your Performance?

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static stretching - does it affect performanceIn the past, stretches have typically been a part of any warm up – whether getting ready for a run or a game of football.  However, now there are a plethora of studies showing that static stretching impairs performance. Could all that good warming up and stretching you have been doing before the game actually be impairing muscle performance? Today I am going to delve into these studies and let you know, in easy to read terms, if stretching really does affect performance.

Static stretching has been considered an important part of a pre-game/event warm up for decades and has been ingrained in the minds of young and old as the thing to do. Static stretching involves taking a muscle to end of range (on stretch) and holding it there for 15-60 seconds and yes has been shown to be effective in improving muscle length.

So if static stretching does the job we want in improving flexibility, then how can it decrease performance?

A decent amount of research has emerged over the last 15 years showing that sustained stretching can impair performance (1, 2, 3, 4 to list a few). Static stretching of over 30 seconds has been shown to decrease, strength power, balance and reaction time, such as:

  • A study by Nelson et al looked at the effect of static stretching on 20m sprint times and  showed that it had a significant increase in sprint times – slowing the sprinters down.
  • Behm et al showed that stretching for 45 seconds to the point of discomfort negatively affected both balance and reaction time.

The impairments  brought on by static stretching are thought to be due to changes in the muscle compliance – it may affect the muscle’s ability to detect and respond to changes in the muscle – Basically slowing down the reflexes and responses within the muscle.

There findings are significant for many athletes – particularly those that need explosive power and only minor differences can separate you from making the podium or not. Examples of this is sprinting, weight lifting etc were, small differences and loss in power can make or break it for you.

 

What you should do:

Before exercise: A warm up to minimise any impairments and loss in performance should include:

  • Sub-maximal aerobic activity (running, cycling etc)
  • Large amplitude dynamic stretching (this has NO affect on performance)
  • Sports specific dynamic activities/drills

After exercise:

  • 5-10 minutes cool down aerobic activity (light jog)
  • 5-10 minutes static stretching
  • Re-fuel

I must mention that there are a few ways to get around this decrease in performance with static stretching. The research has shown that stretches less than 30 seconds that are low intensity have little or no effect on performance. That is pretty ideal I think as I discussed in a earlier post, you get just as good an improvement with a 30 second stretch as you do with a 60 second-plus stretch! So if you do take part in a sport that requires a high degree of static flexibility – you should use low intensity stretches (don’t push to that ow point), held for short duration 15-30 seconds.

 

Conclusion:

  • Dynamic stretching is best before exercise as this lengthens muscles AND gets them warmed up and firing.
  • Static stretching after exercise to reduce muscle soreness and enhance recovery.
  • Hold static stretches for 15-30 seconds – and they shouldn’t hurt!

Health, Mobility

How to stretch – Drop and give me 30!

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How long to hold a stretch for Ask a dozen people how long you should hold a stretch for and could get as many different answers – There is a lot of confusion out there as to how to stretch best. So in this post I want to put the uncertainty to rest and give you a good guideline for effective stretching!

I worked with a professional league team last week and most of the answers to that question was 5-10 seconds, which as a heath professional shocked me – because I know you need to hold a stretch for at least 15 seconds to get a good effect. So were a lot of these players wasting their time? In a way, yes, and here is why:

Now just to clarify, I am just talking about static stretching (sustained holds), not dynamic or PNF stretching etc (more about these later).

There is a huge amount of research out there delving into this subject, and fair enough too as stretching is a common practice, all over the world, whether it be used by athletes, older adults, in rahab programs or in a workout session. Human movement is dependent on the amount of range of motion (ROM) we have in our joints and with so many people stretching to achieve better ROM – it is important that it is time well spent.

So, before I tell you what the best hold time is, ask yourself: how long do you think you should hold it for?

Well, the research out there do all vary a little but the message they all have in common is stretching for 15-30 seconds is just as effective as stretching for 1-2 minutes.

As an athlete myself, that is a huge relief! Being a huge believer (and prescriber) of nice long 1-2 minute holds in the past, this is really going to streamline my stretching time!

A study by Bandy and Irion looked at the difference in hamstring length after 15, 30 and 60 second stretches and found that after 6 weeks 30 second holds were more effective than 15 seconds and just as good as a 1 minute hold. In a subsequent study by these two it was also found that there was no difference between stretching 1 times and 3 times daily (I was fairly happy with that outcome!)

Another study found that stretches need to held for at least 15 seconds to have a significant effect, with no difference between 15, 30, and 60 seconds (3).

 

What these studies show is that static stretches need to be held for at least 15 seconds, and preferably 30 seconds in order to have good effect  – I make a general rule to hold it for 30 seconds as most people tend to count a little faster when stretching!

It was also shown that a stretching regime of a 30 second stretch one time daily over 6 weeks had a significant improvement in muscle length! Showing that you really do need to persevere and those tight muscles will give in.

30secondssInterestingly a survey of major league baseball strength and conditioning coaches found that on average they encourage their athletes to hold static stretches for just 12 seconds (4). this finding resonates with my experience with high level athletes – Generally not enough time is begin spent stretching. This absolutely shouldn’t be the case as it does not take long to effectively stretch your tight muscles – and feel a whole lot better for it. Just 30 seconds on each muscle, once a day.

I think it is time you started investing that little bit of time in yourself and stretch better!

A quick note: Static stretching is best done AFTER exercise and not before. Dynamic stretching is best done before stretching.

 

stopwatchThanks for taking the time to read and improve yourself!

Now get down and give me 30!

 

Please, share, like and comment as this is important for absolutely everyone to know!

Keep an eye eye on my up-coming posts for more on how to stretch well:

– Does stretching affect performance?


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