What is Static Stretching?

September 29th, 2009 Posted in Flexibility 13 Comments »

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Before we really get into static stretching, you can take a minute to learn more about flexibility training.

The goal of static stretching is to gradually increase the length of the muscles. Static stretching can be done by anyone, regardless of age, weight, or fitness level, and stretches can be modified to meet the specific flexibility of an athlete.

Flexible Woman
Static Stretching Makes You Flexible

There is lots to learn about flexibility, so now we will examine the hows, whys, whens, and wheres of using static stretching exercises.


Static Stretching

There are two forms of static stretching:

  1. passive static stretching
  2. active static stretching

Passive static stretching requires no effort on the part of the person performing the exercise, while active static stretching requires a muscular contraction to hold the stretch.

An example of a passive static stretch would be a hamstring stretch where you place your foot on a chair. No other effort is needed to hold that stretch.

An example of an active static stretch would be a static lunge where the lunge position is held for the duration of the stretch. In this case the agonist or assisting muscles of the legs and core will be utilized to keep the body upright in the required position. The tension of the agonists in an active stretch helps to relax the muscles being stretched by reciprocal inhibition

Static stretching is easy to perform and is often recommended after vigorous exercise. There has been much debate recently about the benefits of static stretching prior to exercise. Many fitness experts now believe that using static stretching before exercise actually does more harm than good.

Static Stretching Before Exercise

Once playing a vital role in the warm up routine, many strength and conditioning coaches now suggest that static stretches should be avoided prior to training. This advice is based on a number of studies that have linked detrimental performance in power, maximal voluntary contraction, balance, and reaction time with a static stretching routine shortly before exercise.

Malachy McHugh, the director of research at the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, notes:

“There is a neuromuscular inhibitory response to static stretching, The straining muscle becomes less responsive and stays weakened for up to 30 minutes after stretching, which is not how an athlete wants to begin a workout.”

Before entirely disregarding static stretching as a component of your warm up routine, it is important to take a closer look at the research.

Not all of the studies found static stretching to have a negative impact on power and performance. Of the many studies that have found a negative association between static stretching and performance, most have indicated that the negative effects are often minimal.

We have to remember that this debate relates to a prolonged session of static stretching prior to exercise, not the 5 minutes that you probably dedicate to it. After all, there are still important beneficial reasons for athletes to bring about a long-term increase in the range of motion (ROM) of commonly used muscles.

The Project Swole Insight

Of course, most readers at Project Swole would agree that any exercise or practice that introduces even a minimal negative impact on performance should be completely avoided. That is my stance on the topic too.

I no longer implement any kind of static stretching routine before exercise. In fact I personally haven’t used static stretching as part of my warm up routine for about 7 years.

I do however use static stretching after every workout as part of a 10-15 minute cool-down. I don’t stretch every muscle after every workout, but I do try to hit most of them on a regular basis.

To make the most effective use of static stretching, always stretch after training. Never, ever use static stretching on cold muscles. A good rule of thumb is: warm up to stretch, don’t stretch to warm up.

Long-Term Static Stretching Programs

While dynamic stretches may be more suitable as part of a warm up, static stretching is more effective at increasing range of motion and lengthening muscle fibers after a strenuous workout.

Static stretching is slow and constant, and the stretch position is held for up to 30 seconds for the best results.

Over time, the goal of static stretching is to increase ROM for all applicable muscles in the body. The adaptations caused by regular static stretching may decrease the risk of over-extension injury, because flexible joints can be taken through an increased ROM without injury occurring to the surrounding ligaments and muscles.

Other Reasons to Use Static Stretching

Some other good reasons to use static stretching are:

  • Coma victims may need their muscles worked in this manner to prevent muscle atrophy.
  • People who lack strength might simply need help to get a deeper stretch.
  • Static stretching may be more effective for increasing recovery times after vigorous exercise.
  • Yoga practitioners use static stretching regularly in their Yoga routines. Many of the stretches found in various forms of yoga are active stretches.

Perhaps most importantly, from an athlete’s perspective, regular static stretching after exercise does improve force production, speed and jumping ability in most flexibility studies.

Active stretching increases active flexibility and strengthens the agonistic muscles. Active static stretches are usually quite difficult to hold and maintain for more than 10 seconds and rarely need to be held any longer than 15 seconds.

Examples of static stretching:

Chest Stretch

Chest Stretch
  • Stand tall with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width and a slight bend in the knees
  • Hold your arms out to the side parallel to the ground with your palms facing forward
  • Stretch your arms back as far as possible
  • Use a wall or doorway to help stretch each arm if necessary

Forearm and Wrist Stretch

Forearm Wrist Stretch
  • Kneel on the floor, get down on all fours by supporting yourself on your hands and knees
  • Point your thumbs to the outside and your fingers toward your knees
  • Keep your palms flat as you lean back to stretch the front part of your forearms

Shoulder and Chest Stretch

  • Either kneel down or stand tall with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width and a slight bend in the knees
  • Shoulder Chest Stretch

    Clasp your hands behind your back at hip-level and straighten your arms

  • Raise your hands as high as possible behind your back
  • Bend forward from the waist and hold

Upper Back Stretch

  • Stand tall with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width and a slight bend in the knees
  • Interlock your fingers and push your hands as far away from your chest as possible
  • Allow your upper back to relax
  • The stretch will be between your shoulder blades
Shoulder Stretch

Shoulder Stretch

  • Stand tall with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width and a slight bend in the knees
  • Extend your right arm across the front of your chest parallel to the ground
  • Bend your left arm up and use your left forearm to ease your right arm closer to your chest
  • Repeat with both arms

Triceps Stretch

  • Stand tall with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width and a slight bend in the knees
  • Place one hand behind your upper back and neck, with your elbow pointing to the sky
  • Triceps Stretch

    Place the other hand on the elevated elbow and gently pull the elbow towards and behind your head

  • The stretch will be throughout your triceps
  • Repeat with both arms

Side Bends

  • Stand tall with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width and a slight bend in the knees, rest your hands on your hips
  • Bend slowly to one side, come back to the vertical position and then bend to the other side
  • Do not lean forwards or backwards

Front Abdominal and Hip Flexor Stretch

Abdominal Stretch
  • Lie face down on the floor, fully outstretched
  • Bring your hands to the sides of your shoulders and press to lift your chest off the floor
  • Keep your hips pressed firmly into the floor
  • The stretch will be in the front of your abs and hip flexors

Hamstring Stretch (Hurdle Stretch)

Hamstring Stretch
  • Sit on the ground with both legs straight out in front of you
  • Bend your left leg and place the sole of your left foot alongside the inside of your right leg
  • Allow your left leg to lie relaxed on the ground
  • Bend forward keeping your back straight
  • Try to touch your toes, but do not round your back
  • The stretch will be in the hamstring of your right leg
  • Repeat with both legs

Calf Stretch

Calf Stretch
  • Stand tall with one leg in front of the other facing a wall
  • The heel of your back foot should not yet be flat on the floor
  • Place your hands flat against a wall at shoulder height
  • Ease your back leg further away from the wall, keeping it straight and press the heel firmly into the floor
  • Keep your hips facing the wall and the rear leg and spine in a straight line
  • The stretch will be in the calf of the rear leg
  • Repeat with the other leg

Hip and Thigh Stretch

  • Stand tall with your feet twice shoulder width apart
  • Turn your feet and face to your right
  • Bend your right leg so that your right thigh is parallel with the ground and your right lower leg is vertical
  • Gradually lower your body
  • Keep your back straight and use your arms to balance
  • The stretch will be along the front of your left thigh and along the hamstrings of your right leg
  • Repeat in both directions

Adductor Stretch

Adductor Stretch
  • Stand tall with your feet twice shoulder width apart
  • Bend your right knee and lower your body away from the left leg in a side lunge
  • Keep your back straight and use your arms to balance
  • The stretch will be in your left leg adductor
  • Repeat with both legs

Groin Stretch (Butterfly Stretch)

Butterfly Stretch
  • Sit tall with straight posture
  • Ease both of your feet up towards your body and place the soles of your feet together, allowing your knees to come up and out to the side
  • Resting your hands on your lower legs, ankles, or knees, and ease both of your knees towards the ground
  • The stretch will be along the inside of your thighs and groin

Iliotibial Band Stretch (Glute Stretch)

Glute Stretch
  • Sit tall with your legs stretched out in front of you
  • Bend your right knee and place your right foot on the left side of the floor beside your left knee
  • Turn your shoulders so that you are facing to your right
  • Using your left arm against your right knee to help ease you further round
  • Use your right arm on the floor for support
  • Repeat in both directions
  • The stretch will be along the length of the spine and in the muscles around your right hip

Quadriceps Stretch

Quadriceps Stretch
  • Stand tall next to a wall or other support, with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width and a slight bend in the knees
  • Take hold of your left foot with your right hand and ease the heel of the foot closer to your butt
  • Place your left hand on the wall to maintain your balance
  • Repeat with your right leg
  • The stretch will be along the front of the thigh

For even more ideas, check out this static stretching routine used by the James Madison University (JMU) strength and conditioning program.

Resources:

Marek SM, Cramer JT, Fincher AL, Massey LL, Dangelmaier SM, Purkayastha S, Fitz KA, Culbertson JY. Acute Effects of Static and Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation Stretching on Muscle Strength and Power Output. Journal of Athletic Training. 2005 Jun;40(2):94-103

O’connor DM, Crowe MJ, Spinks WL. Effects of static stretching on leg power during cycling. The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness. 2006 Mar;46(1):52-6

Shrier, I. Does stretching improve performance? A systematic and critical review of the literature. . 2004 Sep;14(5):267-73.

Shrier, I. Stretching before exercise does not reduce the risk of local muscle injury: A critical review of the clinical and basic science literature. Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine. 1999 9: 221-7.

Yamaguchi, T., Ishii, K. Effects of static stretching for 30 seconds and dynamic stretching on leg extension power. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2005 Aug;19(3):677-83.

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13 Responses to “What is Static Stretching?”

  1. Benji says:

    If I don’t stretch my upper body will I lose a significant range of motion? (Over a month, year, five years..)

    • Steve says:

      Benji: If you don’t ever stretch, either dynamically or statically, your muscles will eventually tighten. This will lead to completely unnecessary aches and pains, and most likely injury. If you lift weights you need to stretch. That is just the way it is.

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  3. Jody says:

    Hey I was working with an online trainer at http://www.illuminategym.com and the online trainer said that doing a straight leg dead lift could be considered a ‘static lift’. I am just curious if this is true or not because I am familiar with Static Stretching even though your blog took it to the next level. Thanks I would love to see what you have to say. Thanks.

    • Steve says:

      Jody: straight leg deadlifts can be dangerous if you jump into them cold and over-extend yourself. Is the straight leg deadlift a ‘static lift’? I suppose. If you consider Olympic lifts to be dynamic because they involve more muscles in the body. I don’t really see how an exercise being static or dynamic is important at all, like it is with stretching.

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  7. Jeff says:

    I am looking to get faster, jump higher, etc, like you said static stretching can provide you with in the article above, but I also saw you wrote how you should not static stretch when you are cold. If I am looking to get faster and more athleic when should I static stretch? Also, as you said above you do not static stretch before a game/exercise so does that mean I should only dynamic stretch before a game/exercise? Thanks for the help you answered a LOT of questions I’ve had and helped out a lot.

  8. Pedro says:

    hey steve umm i just wanted 2 know what the benefits of increasing muscle length by using static stretching?

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