A few studies (cited below) claim that holding a stretch for a long time (static stretching) can help prevent injuries and make us more flexible. While other studies claim it makes us weaker and less powerful before we exercise or compete in a sport.
The purpose of stretching prior to working out or playing sports is primarily to warm up the body, get the nerves firing, and make sure the mind and body feel connected as one.
Static stretching involves holding a stretch in a fixed position for an extended period. Examples include forward bends, hamstring stretches, or holding a calf stretch against a wall. Research suggests that performing static stretching before a workout may not be as beneficial as previously thought.
A study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness (PubMed source) found that static stretching before exercise can lead to a temporary decrease in muscle strength and power. This is known as the “stretching-induced strength loss” phenomenon.
Dynamic stretching involves moving joints and muscles through a full range of motion in a controlled manner. Examples include walking lunges, arm circles, or leg swings. Dynamic stretching is doing movements that mimic what we do in our sport, where you don’t necessarily hold a certain position for a period of time.
Research published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (Source: PubMed) indicates that dynamic stretching before exercise may improve muscle performance and power.
This method of stretching has become popular in almost all sports because It helps to increase body temperature, blood flow, and activate the nervous system, preparing the body for subsequent physical activity. Bringing our muscles and minds to work better together.
Which Type of Stretching Should I Be Using?
While everyone’s flexibility and the demands of their sport are different, here are some general guidelines that will help you decide what you may need for your sport at your current level. In our article below, we’re focusing on explosive, dynamic sports such as Basketball, Hockey, Soccer, Tennis, Golf, Volleyball, Olympic Weightlifting, Baseball, etc.
In general, all athletes need to do some form of dynamic stretching to bring blood flow to the joints. But what about static stretching?
While some studies have challenged the idea that static stretching is always bad. Short periods of static stretching (less than 60 seconds per muscle) can actually be good for our flexibility when done as part of a warm-up routine.
In the studies (sources below),
“The 30 seconds of stretching did not affect muscular performance; however, 60 seconds caused a significant decrease in strength. Hence, it appears the volume of stretching (stretch duration) may be a significant factor. Thus, different results have been found across different studies with relatively longer stretching protocols typically producing lower performance results.”
Everyone’s optimal flexibility is different, whether you are competing in these explosive and dynamic sports, you don’t need to be a contortionist or yoga model.
The most important thing to remember for pre-workout or pre-game stretching is to warm up the body; not necessarily to gain more range of motion.
Injuries happen when the load (i.e., force) is far greater than the body can handle in specific ranges. This means that if you are participating in explosive, dynamic sports, becoming too flexible without strengthening (creating stability) in those ranges often lead to higher chances of sports injuries.
When we perform static stretching, holding it for a 30 sec period of time or more, our range of motion increases, which is helpful for getting into the right positions for certain sports, as long as we don’t neglect the strengthening component to create stability in those new ranges of motion.
In a sport like Olympic Weightlifting, being strong and stable in different positions is super important. Doing static stretching before exercising might make our joints unstable and affect how strong we are. For example, if we can do a deep squat but struggle to hold a heavy weight in that position, increasing flexibility might not be very helpful.
If you recall earlier, the research shows that short-duration stretching (less than one minute per muscle group) doesn’t have a big impact on how strong and powerful we are. When we include static stretching in a full warm-up routine, it can even help prevent muscle injuries during high-intensity activities.
Having a warm-up routine gets our bodies ready for exercise and the sports we play. High-performance athletes should be careful with longer stretches because they might affect their performance during competitions. But for the general population who wants to improve their mobility and get ready for their activity, stretching before and after a workout is a good idea.
Becoming more flexible takes time, and it won’t make us lose control of our bodies. As we become more flexible and mobile, we can adjust our training accordingly. So, stretching is part of a big system that helps us do better in our sport.
We should focus on getting the right amount of flexibility that works for us and include dynamic movements, static stretches, strength training, and other exercises in our routine.
Post-Workout or Post-Game Stretching?
When we stretch, we need to know why we’re doing it, what type of stretching is best, and which stretches are good for each part of our training.
I highly recommend stretching after a workout to help your muscles relax, reduce tension, and help your body cool down.
It’s great for our overall flexibility and helps our muscles go back to their normal length after a tough workout or game.
Top 3 Movements I Recommend
Everyone’s body and needs are different.
Taking from the decades of experience I’ve spent stretching athletes and the general population, and granted that you have no chronic pain and no diagnosed body dysfunctions, and were not told by a doctor not to stretch, here are the top 3 that I would consider a must:
Core4 Stretch Wave by Stretch To Win
World’s Greatest Stretch
There are different variations of this, but it looks relatively the same. It can be passive or active.
WALK Like You Just Won a Billion Dollars
One of the most underrated things to do is walk with your arms swinging—literally, your own happy walk—like you just won! Warms up your body, and moving like you’re happy does a lot of good for your mind before or after a workout. It’s not necessarily classified as a stretch per se, but it’s a dynamic movement all “humans” should do.
What if I Need More Help?
I recommend seeking out a stretch specialist or mobility coach in your local area or online. A personalized routine for your specific movement abilities, goals, and sport will maximize the time you spend each day.
Elite and Professional athletes all understand the value of time simply because it accelerates their journey and creates an advantage over their competitors.
Your biggest challenge is finding the right balance and making stretching a part of your lifestyle and routine that will help you perform better and dominate the game.
Chaabene H, Behm DG, Negra Y, Granacher U. Acute Effects of Static Stretching on Muscle Strength and Power: An Attempt to Clarify Previous Caveats. Front Physiol. 2019 Nov 29;10:1468. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2019.01468. PMID: 31849713; PMCID: PMC6895680.
Iwata M, Yamamoto A, Matsuo S, Hatano G, Miyazaki M, Fukaya T, Fujiwara M, Asai Y, Suzuki S. Dynamic Stretching Has Sustained Effects on Range of Motion and Passive Stiffness of the Hamstring Muscles. J Sports Sci Med. 2019 Feb 11;18(1):13-20. PMID: 30787647; PMCID: PMC6370952.
Page P. Current concepts in muscle stretching for exercise and rehabilitation. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2012 Feb;7(1):109-19. PMID: 22319684; PMCID: PMC3273886.
Franco BL, Signorelli GR, Trajano GS, Costa PB, de Oliveira CG. Acute effects of three different stretching protocols on the Wingate test performance. J Sports Sci Med. 2012 Mar 1;11(1):1-7. PMID: 24149116; PMCID: PMC3737835.