There are many myths and misconceptions about static muscle stretching. The purpose of this blog is to demonstrate how the scientific studies to date refute all of these assumptions about the benefits of static stretching. I will also try to provide evidence-based alternatives to static stretching.
What is static muscle stretching?
Static muscle stretching involves adopting a position that lengthens a specific muscle, giving you the sensation that the muscle is being stretched. Static stretching is performed by athletes and the general population and is frequently prescribed by physiotherapists following various musculoskeletal injuries.
Why do static stretches
The standard justifications given for doing regular static stretching are that it :
help to improve the flexibility of muscles and tendons
improve athletic performance
Reduce post-exercise soreness and, more importantly, so-called static stretching
Reduce the risk of future injury.
Static stretching reduces the risk of injury, is this true?
There is some evidence that static stretching improves flexibility and range of motion, but several studies show that these improvements are short-lived, approximately 30 minutes (de Weijer et al. 2003, Ford et al. 2007). A review of the literature on thigh stretching concluded that several weeks of static stretching resulted in improvements in flexibility and an increase in range of motion (Decoster et al., 2005).
The automatic assumption may be that these improvements result from elongation of muscle fibres and tendons.
In contrast, one study not only measured changes in range of motion, but analysed the effects of a six-week static stretching programme on calf muscle and Achilles tendon fibre length (Konrad et al. 2014). Although significant improvements in range of motion were achieved, muscle fibre length was not altered.
The authors hypothesise that improvements in range of motion are therefore not related to muscle fibre lengthening. However, the increase in flexibility may be due to adaptations in the nerve endings, allowing for an increased tolerance to the sensation of stretching. Perhaps dancers, gymnasts and yoga practitioners who stretch regularly can gradually stretch more because they have less pain when stretching or can simply tolerate more pain.
In conclusion, based on the latest scientific studies, we can conclude that static stretching is not effective in reducing the risk of injury.
Reduce the risk of injury with eccentric strength training
Proper warm-up and eccentric exercises significantly reduce the risk of injury and improve recovery from muscle and tendon injuries.
Here are some examples of eccentric strength training:
Despite the increasing popularity of static stretching over the past few decades, personal trainers, physiotherapists and sports medicine must consider the overwhelming evidence that static stretching may not be an effective way to
- improve muscle and tendon flexibility
- improve sports performance
- reduce post-exercise pain and, most importantly, static stretching is not effective in reducing the risk of future injury.
Dynamic stretching as an alternative
Unlike static stretching, dynamic stretching and eccentric strengthening can reduce the risk of injury and improve sports performance. Future studies should focus on the effects of dynamic stretching and warm-ups that simulate real activity or sport.
Examples of dynamic stretching:
Eccentric knee extension: Double leg quadriceps minisquat
Stand up and slowly bend your knees for 3-5 seconds. Then quickly extend the knees. Put more weight on the affected knee when bending as tolerated.
Eccentric knee extension: lowering.
Sit down with a small rolled towel under the knee. Extend the knee. Lower slowly for 3 to 5 seconds