My son played in the Nebraska State Cup Soccer Tournament last weekend . . . despite all the research to the contrary, he and his teammates were required to perform a pre-game static stretching routine.  Why do I continue to see this and why are we still talking about this?  There is just too much good evidence to suggest that AT BEST, static stretching before competition does nothing.  AT WORST, it:

  • Decreases strength
    • Fowles JR, Sale DG, and MacDougall JD. Reduced strength after passive stretch of the
      human plantarflexors. J Appl Physiol 89: 1179-1188, 2000.
    • Kokkonen J, Nelson AG, and Cornwell A. Acute muscle stretching inhibits maximal
      strength performance. Research quarterly for exercise and sport 69: 411-415, 1998.
    • Nelson AG, Kokkonen J, and Arnall DA. Acute muscle stretching inhibits muscle strength
      endurance performance. J Strength Cond Res 19: 338-343, 2005.
  • Decreases strength endurance
    • Nelson AG, Kokkonen J, and Arnall DA. Acute muscle stretching inhibits muscle strength
      endurance performance. J Strength Cond Res 19: 338-343, 2005.
  • Decreases power production
    • Behm DG and Kibele A. Effects of differing intensities of static stretching on jump
      performance. European journal of applied physiology 101: 587-594, 2007
  • Impairs running economy
    • Wilson JM, Hornbuckle LM, Kim, JS, Ugrinowitsch C, Lee SR, Zourdos MC, Sommer B, and Panton LB. Effects of static stretching on energy cost and running endurance performance. J Strength Cond Res 24: 2274-2279, 2010.
  • Increases ground contact time
    • Lowery, Ryan P.; Joy, Jordan M.; Brown, Lee E.; Oliveira de Souza, Eduardo; Wistocki, David R.; Davis, Gregory S.; Naimo, Marshall A.; Zito, Gina A.; Wilson, Jacob M. Effects of Static Stretching on 1 Mile Uphill Run Performance. J Strength Cond Res 27, 2013.

Further, to my knowledge, no studies have shown a decrease in the risk and/or rate of injuries following a static stretching routine. [Note, this assumes the athlete has sufficient flexibility for the required task(s).]

Given all of the above (and so very much more) research, it was a little surprising to read the following tweets from a colleague in the UK:

 

Adam is normally a very big proponent of published research and I thoroughly enjoy his posts and tweets, but this, I’m afraid is only a selective reading of the available research.  Take, as an example, the following study by researchers in Italy. These researchers looked at, among other things, rhythmic gymnastics competition flight time and ground contact time following bouts of static stretching.  Results indicated a decrease in flight time during a technical (in-competition) leap; this decrease in flight time resulted in a decrease of the judges’ scores.  The authors state that flight time accounts for anywhere from 9-30% of judges’ scores.  Stated differently,

  • Greater flight time increases judges’ scores
  • Static stretching decreases flight time

Researchers conclude:

The results of this study reveal that SS (Static Stretching) warm-up produced a reduction in technical leap performance when executed immediately before the rhythmic gymnastics performance. On the other hand, SS may be used in preparing competition routines because gymnasts need to improve flexibility, the fundamental rhythmic gymnastics skill.

This conclusion contains a key point.  Namely, static stretching DOES negatively impact a variety of performances (both in and out of competition), but, this assumes that athletes have necessary flexibility to perform their given sport.  For example, if a gymnast cannot perform complete certain portions of a routine because of inflexibility OR if a sprinter cannot use proper form because of hamstring tightness, they will not perform well (as shown by low scores or slower times) or might be at greater risk of injury.

There is so much more to learn and what’s discussed above only barely scratches the surface of the static stretching debate (as an aside, I obviously view the debate as decidedly one-sided).  I will end with the results of my son’s games, they lost handily. He and I are blaming the pre-game static stretching!

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