What Is Static Stretching? Should Athletes Do it?

EndurElite Chief Endurance Officer Matt Mosman discusses what static stretching is, how to perform static stretching, and if static stretching is a good idea before and after endurance exercise.

Static Stretching & Exercise Fast Facts

Ever wonder if static stretching is a good idea before exercise

  • Known as the “grab and hold” method, proponents of static stretching claim it will increase performance, reduce muscle soreness, and reduce your chances of getting injured.
  • However, very little research exists to support these claims.
  • A large body of research suggests static stretching can be detrimental to performance by reducing muscular efficiency and the stretch response of muscles.
  • Take home point? Skip the static stretching before exercise and opt instead for a gradual warm-up (light jog) followed by dynamic stretching (i.e. high knees) if needed.

Full Video Transcription:

Stretching Does Not Reduce Muscle Soreness Or Help Prevent Injuries

Ever wondered if doing static stretching before exercise is a good idea? That is going to be the topic of our Brain Bomb for today. Now, commonly known as the grab-and-hold method, proponents of static stretching have claimed that it can reduce muscle soreness, increase performance and lessen the likelihood of you getting injured. 

There Is Very Little Evidence To Support The Use Of Static Stretching

But I am here to tell you today, and sorry to burst your bubble, that there is very little evidence to support these claims on static stretching and, in fact, it's quite the opposite. There's a large body of research that demonstrates that static stretching can be detrimental to your endurance performance, especially when done before exercise. So, today what we're going to do is we're going to kind of examine some of the research behind static stretching and explain why it's bad, and then give you some alternative methods to static stretching, if you feel like you need to limber up before training or racing.

Static Stretching Does Increase Range Of Motion

And before we get to that, I want you to know that static stretching does have its place in some activities where a greater range of motion is required like in gymnastics. I'm also going to add if you like static stretching, go ahead and do it. Just don't think it's providing any benefit. And, again, if you do do it, I'm going to beg you to do it after exercise and you'll see why here in a second. 

Static Stretching Reduces The Stretch Response Of Muscles

So, let's just delve right into the research on static stretching. The first study conducted by a guy named Ryan Lowery and Jordan Joy. They took a group of runners and split them into two groups and had them do a one-mile time trial uphill at about a 5% grade.

Now, before the one-mile time trial, one group of runners just warmed up with a light jog and the other group warmed up with the light jog followed by static stretching. They did the one-mile time trial. Researchers recorded their time and they crunched the numbers and what they found out is the group of runners who did the light jog plus static stretching were actually 13 seconds slower than the group that just did the light jog as a warmup.

Now, why the heck is this? Research determined that static stretching before this endurance exercise basically reduced the muscles' stretch response and in turn reduced muscular efficiency. 

Unstretched Muscles Store More Elastic Energy

So, you know, what does this mean? I want you to think of your muscle as a big elastic band that stores a lot of energy. When you static-stretch, this makes the muscles a lot more lax and it doesn't allow it to store as much explosive elastic energy. So, that's what static stretching does. It, basically, makes the muscle more lax where can't produce as much power when doing the endurance exercise. So, that is just one example of how static stretching before exercise can decrease performance. There's a lot of other studies out there demonstrating that. 

Stretching Before Exercise Does Not Help Prevent Injuries

So, now that we got that out of the way, let's examine the claims that static stretching after exercise can reduce your likelihood of getting injured. Again, there is very, very little evidence to suggest that this is the case, and there are so many other physiological factors that come into play with a muscle injury that it's kind of naive to think that stretching after running or cycling does anything to prevent an injury. 

So, case in point is a 2000 study conducted by a group of researchers that took I think 1500 runners and split them into two groups again and followed them over the course of 12 weeks while they were following a half marathon training program.

Now, before every training session, one group of runners did a series of static stretches involving the lower body. The others did not. Followed these subjects for 12 weeks. At the end of the 12 weeks, they crunched all the numbers and they found out of the two groups that the group that did no static stretching, there were about 150 individuals injured. The group that did do the static stretching, there were about 160 injured runners.

So, the point being there was not a significant difference in rates of injury when one person stretched or another person did not stretch. 

So we kind of got to throw that one out the window that stretching after endurance exercise, more specifically running, in this case, will lessen the likelihood of you getting injured. Again, this is just one study I'm referencing. There are other studies out there demonstrating the same thing that whether or not you stretch before exercise is really not going to make a difference if you're going to get injured or not.

What Is Dynamic Stretching? Why Is It Better Than Static Stretching?

So, now that we know why static stretching doesn't really work before or after exercise to provide any benefits, what should you do instead of static stretching if you feel like you need to limber up? Well, it's pretty simple. One, you can just do a light warmup by gradually jogging if you're getting ready for a race or a light cycling if you're getting ready for a cycling race.

How To Perform Dynamic Stretching

Also, you can do what is known as a dynamic warmup. And, basically, a dynamic warmup is, again, doing kind of some light exercise or activity that's specific to the sport you're doing, followed by things like high knees, butt kicks, skips, things of that nature, basically a type of stretch that doesn't involve a grab and hold and reduce the muscles' stretch response. 

So, that is all I have today on static stretching and why it's probably not a good idea to do at all. Now, if you want other videos like this on endurance training, nutrition, and supplementation, I'm going to highly encourage you to subscribe to the EndurElite YouTube Channel or head on over to the EndurElite blog at www.endurelite.com. If you want quick snippets of these type of video, check out our 60-Second Brain Bombs on Instagram @endurelite and until next time, my endurance friends stay fueled, stay focused, stay fast and stay informed.

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