Ten years ago we were told not to stretch before exercise. Now it’s the opposite. When it comes to static stretching vs. dynamic stretching, which is best?
Stretching is essential to improving your health, muscle tone and most importantly, flexibility. However, flexibility is often overlooked and generally not the main focus of workouts and fitness programmes.
There are several different types of stretching, static, dynamic, ballistic and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF). In this blog post, we’re going to focus on static stretching vs. dynamic stretching. A subject open to much debate. For more information on PNF stretching check out our recent post, What is PNF stretching and how should you use it?
What is static stretching?
Static stretching is probably the most common type of stretching. With static stretching, you stretch a muscle or group of muscles by holding the stretch for a period of time. The stretch is usually held for 15-60 seconds. This is then repeated 2–4 times.
Static stretching seems to be subject to conflicting opinion. Michael Boyle states in his book New Functional Training for Sports that static stretching has gone from being the best way to warm up to being something no-one should ever do again. Research in the 1980’s found that static stretching before exercise could decrease muscle power. Some sports such as football (soccer) are against static stretching because of the research supporting this. However, other research suggests that static stretching has been found to effectively increase flexibility and range of motion (RoM).
Some research has suggested the use of static stretching is more appropriate for the cool down.
What is dynamic stretching?
Dynamic stretching is a more functionally oriented stretch. Sport specific movements are used to move the limbs through greater RoM. It involves whole body movements and actively moving a joint passed its RoM without holding the movement at its endpoint. This is usually repeated around 10-12 times.
Although dynamic stretching requires more thoughtful coordination than static stretching, it has gained popularity with athletes, coaches and trainers. Research has shown that dynamic stretching is effective for increasing flexibility, maximal muscle strength, sprint and vertical jump performance. However, other studies show that dynamic stretching has no effect on strength and performance.
Should you stretch before a workout?
Whether or not you should stretch before a workout has long been subject to debate. For many years experts recommended stretching before any workout, activity or sport. It was thought stretching beforehand would reduce injury risk and prepare the body for any strenuous effort to come. In fact, it was typically the only time people did stretch. Most of the stretching was static. But it is important to assess static stretching vs. dynamic stretching in terms of a warm-up.
As discussed in Jay Blahnik’s Full-Body Flexibility, 2nd Edition recent studies suggest that if you stretch before a workout you might actually have a higher rate of injury than if you don’t. Especially if that stretching is static stretching. There’s also other evidence to suggest that performing some types of stretching before a workout might decrease power and speed. Which has led to coaches and personal trainers recommending that any stretching done before exercise should be dynamic stretching.
Michael Boyle argues that perhaps both should be used as part of your warm up. An active warm-up before high-intensity exercise is the best way to prevent acute injuries. In other words, if you want to decrease the chance of hamstring and groin injuries you should perform dynamic stretching exercises before practices, matches or lifting sessions. However, dynamic stretching has little impact on overuse injuries, such as low back and shoulder pain.
Static stretching vs. dynamic stretching
So, static stretching vs. dynamic stretching, which is best? In all honesty, it’s difficult to suggest what is right for a particular person. There’s no concrete evidence that stretching before a workout automatically increases your risk of injury. It might not even alter your performance. But it is easy to understand why athletes, trainers and coaches are reluctant to use static stretching when the research is so persuasive.
However, a lack of flexibility seems to be a causative factor in gradual-onset injuries that plague today’s athletes. These overuse problems, as mentioned above, seem to relate strongly to long-term tissue changes that don’t necessarily respond to dynamic stretching. The fact is that athletes’ warm-ups need to combine both dynamic and static stretching (preceded by foam rolling) as stated in New Functional Training for Sports. For many coaches and personal trainers, an active warm-up before a workout and static stretching after were seen as the solution. Something which Jay Blahnik agrees with.
Boyle suggests that the key might lie in doing static stretching at the beginning of your warm-up, closely followed dynamic stretching. The static stretching is done to increase your flexibility while the muscle is most prone to increase in length. Then, the dynamic warm-up should follow to prepare your muscles for exercise. Whereas Blahnik recommends mainly using dynamic stretching over static stretching before a workout. So the debate about static vs dynamic stretching will likely rage on.
More recently the RAMP Warm-Up has proven to be the most popular by coaches working with elite athletes. It is the most researched and scientifically proven warm-up of recent years.
Whichever you decide, you can find a variety of stretching exercises and more information in the following books:
- New Functional Training for Sports
- Full-Body Flexibility, 2nd Edition
- Delavier’s Stretching Anatomy
- Facilitated Stretching, 4th Edition