What about stretching?

Everyone knows that it is good to stretch before exercise right?  It prevents injury and that must be a good thing…..but does it?  Actually not really.  It all depends on the type of stretching you do and how and when you do it.

The standard warm up that has been handed down from the personal training courses of the 1980s suggests a gentle jog/cycle etc followed by some long static stretches and then off you go.  Recent research suggests that static stretching before activity does not actually improve athletic performance and probably inhibits speed and power development.

Despite this people often feel unable to train without some long stretches – it is deep in our psyche now.


  • Static stretch: a stretch in which muscular tension is held for 15-20 seconds
  • Dynamic stretch: A stretch in which momentum and  active  muscular  effort  are used to  stretch and the end position is not held (calf pumps, walking lunge)
  • Ballistic stretch: Using momentum to push a stretch further than the normal limit

Pre-exercise warm up should comprise a great deal of body movement in which the actions of the session/sport are gradually developed with increasing intensity.  In addition dynamic and ballistic stretching should be used to prepare the muscle for the session. Dynamic and ballistic stretches have been shown to both slightly:

  • Decrease the risk of developing an injury
  • Improve power output

Ballistic stretching has received some very bad press in the past as a cause of injury but done properly it has been shown to be beneficial to athletic force development.  To correctly ballistic stretch you very gently bounce or pull the stretch a short distance further than the normal limit.  Many athletes will have been told not to bounce when stretching, but there is a difference between small controlled movements and flinging your limbs around wildly beyond your normal ROM.

But what about static stretching?  Does it have any benefits?  Yes absolutely is the answer. Regular stretching (as opposed to just before exercise) can improve your general flexibility and this is a good thing; In fact increased flexibility has been shown to lead to:

  • A possible decrease in the likelihood of injury
  • An increase in muscular force and power
  • A possible increase in sprinting speed

The improvements may only be mild (approximately 2-5%) but in athletic performance terms, very significant. All three areas are obviously very important to most athletes, so developing flexibility should assume a corresponding importance in an athlete’s training programme.

The best time to stretch is in the evening as your body is naturally more flexible at night (up to 20% more tendon stiffness at 8am versus 6pm in one study).  It is also useful to stretch after exercise as your muscles are warm and flexible after your session.

If you would like advice on the correct warm up and stretching routines ask your personal trainer or contact us and we can arrange a consultation.

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