Static stretching – worth your time or waste of time?
Static stretching has significantly grown in popularity over the years, embedded into our daily routines with exercise or as part of our sporting preparation and recovery. In the past, I have been guilty of spending many hours in front of the television stretching those hamstrings, trying to ease the sensation of tightness and prevent any future injury. But for something we do so diligently, how important is that 15 minutes of stretching REALLY and is it actually worth your time?
In short, it’s not!
Studies have shown that it is near impossible to change tissue properties and make muscles longer with static stretching. You might be wondering why you are able to reach your toes after stretching for weeks – it must be because the muscle is longer, right? No! This is not the case. With regular static stretching it is believed that a person becomes more tolerant to the stretch sensation and discomfort experienced, allowing them to go further or deeper into the movement. The muscle length itself does not actually change!
“But what about the effects of static stretching on performance?”
Let us look at the common sporting warm up for example. Most people will complete some form of static stretching prior to exercise. However, studies have shown that immediate stretching prior to exercise has been associated with reduced muscular strength and reduced performance with activities such as running and jumping. Now, I know this is a lot to take in – to think that all these years of static stretching has actually had the opposite effects on your body and was not really preparing you for play at all is difficult to wrap your head around. I am sure there are many of us out there thinking the exact same thing.
So, what should you be doing before exercise instead?
In light of this research, we now know that dynamic stretching/warm-up routines are what we need to be focusing more on. Dynamic stretching can involve a range of different movements such as lunge walks, leg swings, squats and side shuffles and should prepare and activate the muscles you require in your exercise or sport. This has been associated with many positive influences on muscular power and sporting performance when completed before exercise.
So, what can I do if I really want to improve my muscle length and range of motion you ask?
Emphasise strength, not stretching! Yes – it’s a myth that strength training makes you “tight”. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
Research shows that the best way to improve muscle length is strength and resistance training. Strength training, in particular eccentric exercises (think, lengthening while you’re strengthening as per below), have been shown to improve joint range of motion and flexibility (Muhamad, A & Muhammad, A 2018). With this form of training, the muscle is activated as it slowly lengthens under load until the point of end of range is reached. Some examples of eccentric exercises include the Nordic curl for the hamstrings and the reverse Nordic curl for the quadriceps. So the next time your hamstrings are feeling ‘tight’ give this exercise a go (DISCLAIMER: expect some hamstring soreness for a few days after giving this a go. it’s not making them “more tight”, just working them hard!)
Take home message:
Static stretching is not harmful or dangerous to your body, but for those who are time poor don’t let it take priority over other forms of exercise (strength training) that we know are more effective at lengthening muscles, improving your performance and reducing injury risk.
If you plan on stretching before your exercise or sporting game a dynamic warm up may be more appropriate in preparing you for physical activity. Or if you simply like the way normal static stretching makes you feel, continue to stretch away knowing that it’s probably not doing what you think it’s doing.
Questions? As always, feel free to call the clinic on 8490 0777, slide into our DM’s on instagram (@thrivephysioplus) or book an appointment online here.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is static stretching?
It involves holding a position of the muscle which feels like a stretch for a prolonged period of time, usually 20-30 seconds.
Muhamad, A, Wan Muhammad, A 2018, ‘Effects of 8 weeks of eccentric training on hamstring flexibility and muscular performance among healthy overweight and obese women’, International Journal of Public Health and Clinical Sciences, vol. 5, no. 3, pp192-203.