Making the case for static stretching

By now you should have heard about the importance of  “dynamic” or “active” stretching before a work out or vigorous physical activity versus the old “static” stretching variety.  (If you haven’t you should read more).

If you know what I’m talking about, you can skip to the next paragraph.  If not, let me get you updated on the recent research regarding stretching and performance. First of all, let’s define the differences between “static” and “active” stretching and we will use the hamstring as an example.  Static stretching of the hamstring involves putting your leg up on a chair and leaning forward until you feel a stretch under your leg and you would then hold it in a static position for 20-30 seconds and repeat.  An example of an active stretch of the hamstrings would be what we call “monster walks”.  Here, you would take big strides, lifting your leg high up in the air until you felt a stretch in the hamstring and continue “walking” like this for 20-30 seconds. 

       For the last 10 years or so, the literature has been consistently demonstrating that static stretching before physical activity does not help to reduce injury rates and actually decreases muscular force  between 5-28% for up to 30 minutesAbout 20-30 seconds of static stretching is the minimum dose to create an immediate 5% reduction in strength.  The more you static stretch, the further reduction in force output occurs.  Just what you want before your tennis match!

What’s as aspiring Nadal to do?  Before you perform your activity or sport, you need to do a specific active warm up, no static stretching. Static stretching plays an important part in our overall fitness plan, just not right before physical activity.

When to static stretch and why:  Static stretching is best done after your workout to help with overall flexibility and joint range of motion.  Remember, active stretching just warms up the muscle, not helping to gain long term changes in length. 

Frequency:  3 x week and after workouts.

Intensity:  You must stretch slowly, as the initial reaction of a muscle is to fight the stretch.  Slower stretching is more effective and it shouldn’t be painful.

Time:  4-5 stretches per muscle group, holding for 20-30 seconds.

The goal of static stretching is to maintain full active range of motion in all joints. Unless you’re hanging on monkey bars or still doing the splits, you need to have static stretching as part of your regular fitness routine.

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