Many times you see athletes before they compete or maybe people before they are about to train and a lot of times you see a common theme, they are getting in some last second static stretching. If they have learned anything about current research on static stretching they would ultimately know that they are actually hurting themselves and most likely hindering their upcoming performance. Why is that? Well before getting into why this method of warming up could prevent the athlete from a stellar performance, static stretching needs to be defined.
Static stretching is defined as a slow and constant stretch, with the end position held for 30 seconds (1). The amount of time a stretch is held can fluctuate between 10 to 30 seconds with very minimal movement, if any.
Now that static stretching is defined, what is that makes this type of stretching harmful to an athlete’s performance? This type of stretching being done as part of the warm up is wrong for two main reasons. First it is going against the grain for what a warm up should be doing and that is preparing the body ready for the physical demands of competing or training. A warm up should be dynamic in nature with sport specific movements that increase’s the body’s core temperature and the synovial fluid of the joints, hints the name “warm up”.
Secondly static stretching done before competing affects the elastic energy stored and also the stiffness of the tendons. The static energy capability is decreased due to the fact that the static stretching causes the stiffness to decrease, hindering the capability for the body to use the elastic energy stored. The final consequences of this is a lower power output causing a detrimental effect on performance. “Our results show that the time of a 40 m sprint was significantly increased when preceded by static stretching. Thus, it appears that pre-performance stretching exercises negatively impact skills that require multiple repetitive high power outputs in addition to those that depend mainly on maximizing a single output of peak force or power.”(2) This is characterized by a research study done by LSU’s Kinesiology department.
If the goal is to get faster, stronger, lift heavier, be more explosive or just plain win whatever competition the athlete is competing in, maybe try a different approach to the warm up. Be more dynamic and sport specific and alleviate the static stretching prior to competition.
(1) Jeffreys, Ian. “Warm-Up and Stretching.” Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. 3rd ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2008. 299+. Print.
(2) Winchester, Jason, Arnold Nelson, Michael Young, and Dennis Landin. “STATIC STRETCHING IMPAIRS SPRINT PERFORMANCE IN COLLEGIATE TRACK AND FIELD ATHLETES.” The Journal of Strength and Conditoning Research 22.1 (2008): 13-18. Print.