Static passive stretching (more commonly referred to as just static stretching) has been used by coaches and athletes for years without question.
You may be aware of the current debate that started some years ago now, questioning whether static stretching prior to exercise really deserved the credence it has...
Static Stretches Before Activity
Once a staple part of the warm up, many strength and conditioning coaches are now suggesting that static stretches should be avoided just prior to competition. Their advice is based on a number of studies that have linked detrimental performance in power, maximal voluntary contraction, balance and reaction time tests with a static stretching routine shortly before (1,2,3,4).
However, before disregarding static stretching entirely (as a component of the warm up), it's important to take a closer look at the research. By no means have all studies found static stretches to have a negative effect on power performance (8,9,10,11). And in many studies that have found a negative association, the effects are often minimal (12,13).
Remember that this debate relates to an acute bout of static stretching prior to exercise. It is still considered important and benefical to athletes away from competition to to bring about a long-term increase in range of motion...
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.
Static stretching is slow and constant and held at an end position for up to 30 seconds (5,6). Static passive stretching uses an external force to hold the stretch in position. No muscle groups are statically contracted to hold the limb in position - as they are with static active stretching.
An example is holding one leg outstretched with the heel on the floor to stretch the hamstrings. Both floor and bodyweight act as the external forces to bring about the stretch in this muscle group. Lying supine (i.e. flat on the back face up) with one leg held extended at right angles to the body (hamstring stretch) is a static active stretch. If a partner holds the leg in that position it becomes a static passive stretch.
A static stretching program effectively increases range of motion over time (7). This chronic adaptation may reduce the risk of injury as it increase the safe range through which a joint can be taken without injury occurring to surrounding muscles and ligaments.
Perhaps most importantly, from the athlete's persepctive, regular stretching improves force production, speed and jumping ability (13).
1) Behm, D.G., Bambury, A., Cahill, F., Power, K. Effect of acute static stretching on force, balance, reaction time, and movement time. Med Sci Sports Exerc. Aug;36(8):1397-402. 2004 2) Yamaguchi, T., Ishii, K. Effects of static stretching for 30 seconds and dynamic stretching on leg extension power. J. Strength Cond. Res. Aug;19(3):677-83. 2005
3) Cramer, J.T., Housh, T.J., Weir, J.P., Johnson, G.O., Coburn, J.W., Beck, T.W. The acute effects of static stretching on peak torque, mean power output, electromyography, and mechanomyography. Eur. J. Appl. Physiol. Mar;93(5-4):530-9. 2005. Epub 2004 Dec 15.
6) 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 J. Sports Med. 9: 221-7. 1999
5) Bandy, W.D., and J.M. Irion. The effects of time on static stretch on the flexibility of the hamstrings muscles. Phys. Ther. 74(9):845-50. 1994
6) Bandy, W.D., J.M. Irion, and M. Briggler. The effect of time and frequency of static stretching on flexibility of the hamstrings muscles. Phys. Ther. 77(10):1090-6. 1997
7)Brodowicz, G.R., R. Welsh, and J Wallis. Comparison of stretching with ice, stretching with heat, or stretching alone on hamstring flexibility. J. Athl. Training. 31:324-27. 1996
8) O'connor DM, Crowe MJ, Spinks WL. Effects of static stretching on leg power during cycling. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2006 Mar;46(1):52-6
9) Koch AJ, O'Bryant HS, Stone ME, Sanborn K, Proulx C, Hruby J, Shannonhouse E, Boros R, Stone MH. Effect of warm-up on the standing broad jump in trained and untrained men and women. J Strength Cond Res. 2003 Nov;17(4):710-4
10) Unick J, Kieffer HS, Cheesman W, Feeney A. The acute effects of static and ballistic stretching on vertical jump performance in trained women. J Strength Cond Res. 2005 Feb;19(1):206-12
11) Knudson DV, Noffal GJ, Bahamonde RE, Bauer JA, Blackwell JR. Stretching has no effect on tennis serve performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2004 Aug;18(3):654-6
12) 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. J Athl Train. 2005 Jun;40(2):94-103
13) Shrier I. Does stretching improve performance? A systematic and critical review of the literature. Clin J Sport Med. 2004 Sep;14(5):267-73.
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