Static Stretching Won’t Make You Slow or Will It?

One of the most underrated and controversial aspects of competition is the warm up phase. All sports that require speed and explosiveness as part of the competition need to prep the body so it’s ready to handle that force – ultimately to minimize injuries. How you do this has been causing a stir with a lot of back and forth debate on the benefits or lack thereof, of static stretching vs dynamic stretching. Most claim that doing any static stretching before a competition will wreck your performance. Is this true or a myth? The answer may surprise you.


Is Static Stretching Bad For You

No! It isn’t bad for you but it does have a place. With static stretching, you are elongating the muscles, releasing them, increasing flexibility and range of motion. Muscles have synergistic relationships with other muscles, meaning one muscle supports the movement of another muscle, and this occurs all over the body. For example, quads and hamstrings work together to support movement in the legs, hips and back. If your low back is tight, this can cause your hamstrings to tighten up. As you can see, tight muscles can have compound effects. Having flexibility can help with agility, speed and muscle strength because your muscles aren’t tight, tense and therefore, can fully complete a movement without much stress placed on them.

When you perform static stretching, you can hold the stretch for as short as a few seconds to several minutes. The right dose of static stretching can be helpful as you warm up – holding a stretch for 20 seconds or less has shown to improve speed. However, hold a stretch too long, more than 60 seconds, and it could impair speed up to 15 minutes post stretching. So knowing how to incorporate static stretches into your warm-up routine becomes time and activity dependent.

  1. Static stretching can be part of your competition warm-up routine but it shouldn’t be the main focus
  2. Hold static stretches for 20 seconds or less when part of your competition warm up
  3. Static stretching is encouraged as part of a cool down after competitions or hard workouts
  4. Static stretching sessions can be done the day before a competition to ensure muscles, tendons, ligaments are loose for improved range of motion
  5. Don’t stretch beyond what your body can comfortably handle


Dynamic Stretching Isn’t A Wonderkid

Dynamic stretches are active movements where joints and muscles go through a full range of motion. This form of stretching has similar effects as static stretching on the muscles, tendons, ligaments – improving flexibility and allowing for full range of motion. The difference is that dynamic stretching movements mimic the activity that you’re going to do, such as sprinting, throwing, jumping, hitting. Rather than holding a static stretch in place, you’re moving your joints so they extend or rotate as needed for your body to complete its full movement potential during the activity. But is the mere act of going through the motion enough to create a sufficient stretch? Not really.

Since the dynamic movements you do will mimic the activity you’re about to perform, your nervous system is actively working to innervate or send signals to the corresponding muscles to complete a sprint, jump, throw, etc. Your body is getting ready to exert power and that’s the reason you don’t want to solely do static stretching when getting ready to be explosive. But when your muscles are feeling tight and inflexible, you won’t get the full benefits of dynamic movements. As you do stride outs for example, if your back and hamstrings are tight, you won’t feel explosive and often times, it feels like you are working harder without much improvement in speed. Doing more stride outs can actually make things worse and increase the risk of pulling a hamstring. It might be worthwhile spending some time doing static stretches to release the tension or tightness in the hamstrings and/or low back so that you can fully open up your stride while you are dynamically stretching.

  1. Start your warm-up 45min to 60 min before your activity or competition so you can go through a complete warm up routine with both static and dynamic stretching
  2. Don’t warm up too soon. Waiting around causes less blood flow to muscles and tendons and they stiffen again. In fact, just a 30minute waiting around period after a warm up has show to affect performance by 4 percent.
  3. Don’t warm up too late. Don’t make your first competition attempt part of your warm-up
  4. Your dynamic movements are not all out efforts – you shouldn’t feel drained when finished with your warm-up


Moderation Not Elimination

There is a synergistic relationship between static and dynamic stretching and knowing how to create a balance will help your performance.  The right kind of warm up should loosen muscles and tendons to increase the range of motion of various joints. This can include both static stretching as well as dynamic stretching and both can be part of a comprehensive warm up routine. While static stretching improves flexibility of your muscles enhancing your agility, speed, and muscle strength, you don’t want to rely only on static stretching to get competition ready. You want to use static stretching to help your musculature stay flexible but you want to use dynamic stretching to get your musculature primed and ready to fully exert force and power. As long as you limit holding static stretches to 20 seconds or less, and use dynamic movements as well, this won’t affect your performance negatively, in fact, research has proven it will enhance your performance.