When it comes to stretching for warm-ups, athletes and their coaches often believe that acute stretching will improve the athletes’ performance and reduce the risk of injury. And that chronic stretching in a long period will enhance performance, reduce the pain, and thus reduce the risk of sports injuries.
However, the data we have nowadays suggest that these two beliefs are not entirely accurate. No coach or athlete doesn’t understand the importance of warm-ups in training; however, their way of doing the warm-ups is very often opposite to their beliefs.
One of the common examples in sports is that coaches use a specific activity such as running, which is usually of very high intensity, which is followed by some form of static stretching.
During the stretching, athletes are sitting on the floor like some oldies, thus losing all the good effects that they gained with the previous stage of warm-up.
It’s similar in personal training as well. Personal trainers put their clients on steppers, bikes, or some similar machine for five to ten minutes. After that, they get them to stretch for ten minutes and then start with the main part of the training when their muscles have already rested and cooled down, making all that running before the stretching in vain.
Effects Of Static Stretching
There have been a lot of studies on the effects of static stretching during warm-ups on training. The results are somewhat disappointing.
Studies have shown that static stretching negatively affects the levels of strength, explosive strength, and reactive strength if it precedes sports activity.
It remains unknown if the static stretching lowers muscle rigidity or if it increases the pain threshold or both. Anyway, the conclusion is that static stretching negatively affects physical activity so it can be connected to lowering tissue rigidity or the changes in the nerve components in the cycle, such as myotatic reflex.
On the other hand, even tho chronic stretching can improve THE athletes’ performance ( mostly with increasing the amplitude of movement caused by the increasing level of pain threshold), acute and chronic stretching have no impact on the number of injuries caused by sports activities.
They do not help to lower the number of injuries at all. The reason for this is simple. Most sports injuries occur due to eccentric contractions of the muscle with the lengths that are within the normal movement amplitude.
Of course, there are situations where larger movement amplitude or better flexibility (that is caused by stretching) can help to prevent injuries. Still, as we already mentioned, most of the injuries occur during normal muscle lengths.
A stronger muscle, with better eccentric strength, has a better ability to absorb energy during eccentric contractions, and that helps it to prevent injuries. Strength training, especially the training of eccentric strength, can help you avoid a large number of injuries.
The results of the studies are apparent. Acute stretching will negatively affect strength, explosive strength, and reactive strength, so it will not change the frequency of injuries.
However, there is a flaw in these studies. They were not that methodically done. To assess the effect of stretching on the performance of athletes, researchers conducted a control measure, in most of the studies, that they later used to compare to the measurements done during sports activities straight after the stretching.
Even though the majority of the trainers conduct static stretching during the warm-ups, also the majority of trainers after the stretching includes additional specific dynamic warm-ups.
The conducted studies didn’t research the effects of the additional warm-ups on physical activity. They also didn’t report how long do the negative effects of the static stretching affect the sports activity that follows.
This dramatically diminishes the credibility of their results. There are some indications that negative effects of static stretching can disappear after thirty to forty minutes of dynamic warm-ups that are done after them and before the physical activity.
Best sprint trainer in the world Charlie Francis, the trainer of famous Ben Johnson and many other athletes, claims that static stretching, if it’s followed by the period of dynamic stretching, won’t negatively affect the physical activity.
Another lead expert in training Michael Boyle state that the best way to increase flexibility is if the muscles are stretching while they are cold after myofascial release on the foam roller.
His logic is that the cold muscle achieves plastic deformation better than a warm muscle. This is the reason why he first places all of his clients on a foam roller after what he makes them stretch the muscles that are most likely to be rigid.
For the people that are mostly sitting due to having office jobs, those are hip flexion muscles, extensors of the thoracal part of the spine, and similar after the stretching what would follow were the corrective exercises and the dynamic warm-ups.
If he is right or wrong and if the increase in amplitude is really necessary, only time and new studies will tell. However, one thing is certain stretching is not warming up.
Stretching will not warm you up and prepare your muscles for the training; even if you decide to include it into your training, make it short and add to it additional warm-up done with dynamic movements.
Stretching during warm-ups can be justified only in the case when the person that is going to workout is particularly rigid in certain muscles.
However, instead of dealing with this rigidity with stretching on every training, if it is present very often, the trainer should question his training methods and the weights that he put his client under lately.
Static stretching has no place in warm-ups. Even though it could be done at the end of the training, static stretching that is done to increase the flexibility is maybe best doing on separate trainings that are dedicated only to that goal.
The dynamic flexibility is the one that is needed in sports, not static-passive one. Of course, static stretching is not the only way to increase the flexibility-properly done strength training, where you use the movements with full amplitude, also increases flexibility, but it also strengthens the muscle in newly gained lengths.
Acute stretching is not the activity that will warm you up or prevent injuries; on the contrary, it can negatively affect your performance in the main part of your training.
If you do decide to include stretching in your warm-ups, make sure that you do some dynamic activity long enough before you start with the main part of your training.
To summarize, stretching has nothing to do with warming up or preparing for your workouts. Not only that, it does not help you in any way for your following workouts, and it does not diminish the risk of the injuries in any way; it also directly negatively affects your performance during the workouts.
It would help if you looked at stretching, static, and dynamic, as a completely different activity, absolutely separate and unnecessary in your warm-ups. If you feel that you need it and want to do it, you should do it as a form of training unrelated to your other workouts.
Before your workouts, you need a dynamic activity that will warm up your muscles and prepare them for the training.