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.
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.
There are two forms of 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.
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.
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.
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.
Some other good reasons to use static stretching are:
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:
Clasp your hands behind your back at hip-level and straighten your arms
Place the other hand on the elevated elbow and gently pull the elbow towards and behind your head
For even more ideas, check out this static stretching routine used by the James Madison University (JMU) strength and conditioning program.
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.