Most of us grew up being told that we should warm up for physical activity (exercise, sport practice or game) with a stretch. Pre-activity stretching has been (and still is) a preferred strategy to help athletes get “loose,” strong, and avoid injury.
But the field of exercise science has generated a large body of research providing evidence that disputes that idea. Instead, researchers have discovered that static stretching can reduce strength and power output, especially in the short-term, resulting in decreasing jumpers’ heights and sprinters’ speeds, without substantially reducing people’s chances of hurting themselves. And two new studies add to a growing scientific consensus that pre-exercise stretching is generally unnecessary and likely counterproductive.
The impact of this information, especially for competitive athletes, is compelling. Static stretching reduces strength in the stretched muscles, and the impact increases with the amount of time the stretch is held. Stretched muscles are, in general, substantially less strong.
Stretched muscles are also less powerful, as measured by the muscle’s ability to produce force during contractions. Muscle power generally decreases after stretching.
This information has broad implications for competitive athletes, given that static stretching is associated with a significant decrease in explosive muscular performance. The impact of pre-activity stretching can impair a sprinter’s burst from the starting blocks; a tennis player’s serve; a weightlifter’s Olympic lift; or a basketball player’s attempt at a blocked shot. Their performance, after warming up with stretching, is likely to be worse than if they hadn’t warmed up at all.
Although this information primarily applies to people participating in events that require strength and explosive power — more so than endurance — research also speaks of static stretching impairing performance in distance running and cycling.
Ultimately, a warm-up should improve performance, not worsen it. A better choice is to warm-up dynamically, by moving the muscles that will be employed in your workout, practice, or game. In other words, your warm-up should include movements that reflect the demands of your activity, whether that be physical training or sport participation.
Get STRONGER, Get FASTER!