As sports physiotherapists we will try to perform anything from plyometrics to ice baths to reduce injury and increase performance of an athlete.The real question is whether the type of stretching we chose to perform before activity will have an affect on the performance and injury levels of our athletes.
Many coaches advocate the use of static stretching prior to exercise.
Static stretching involves reaching forward to a point of tension and “holding the stretch”.
Static stretching has been used through out the years for two main reasons:
1. injury prevention
2. performance enhancement
Does static stretching prior to activity achieve the goals of injury prevention and performance enhancement?
Research has shown that static stretching can be detrimental to performance and doesn’t necessarily lead to decreases in injury.
Latest research has shown:
1. There is no difference in the occurrence of injury between those athletes who statically stretched and those who did not.
2. Static stretching has been shown to decrease muscle strength by up to 9% for 60 minutes following the stretch.
3. Static stretching reduced peak force by 5% of Achilles tendon reflex activity and the rate of force production by 8%.
4. Static stretching caused a specific decrease in the specific coordination of explosive movements.
5. Three 15-second stretches of the hamstrings, quadriceps, and calf muscles has been show to reduced the peak vertical velocity of a vertical jump.
There is no relationship between static flexibility and dynamic flexibility.
This suggests that an increased static range of motion may not be translated into functional, sport-specific flexibility, which is largely dynamic in most sporting situations.
Static based stretching programs seem best suited following an activity.
In soccer it is vitally important to have explosive muscles that allow a player to jump higher for the winning header or to explode past an opponent to get to the ball quicker.
Almost every movement in soccer is preceded by an eccentric movement. For example, when you run you bend your legs first then explode forward. In jumping you must bend your legs first then jump. Finally, cutting in soccer requires a lot of eccentric power. Wouldn’t it make sense to have optimal power, coordination and eccentric strength to succeed in soccer? If we shouldn’t static stretch before a game or practice then how can we stretch to optimize performance on the field? The answer is dynamic stretching.
Many of the best strength coaches support the use of dynamic stretching.
Dynamic stretching consists of functional based exercises which use sport specific movements to prepare the body for movement.
“Dynamic stretching” involves moving parts of your body and gradually increasing reach, speed of movement, or both.
Do not confuse dynamic stretching with ballistic stretching!
Dynamic stretching: consists of controlled leg and arm swings that take you (gently!) to the limits of your range of motion.
Ballistic stretches: involve trying to force a part of the body beyond its range of motion.
In dynamic stretches, there are no bounces or “jerky” movements.
Several professional coaches, authors and studies have supported or shown the effectiveness of dynamic stretching.
Below are a few examples of support for dynamic stretching:
1. Flexibility is speed specific. There are two kinds of stretch receptors, one measures magnitude and speed and the other measures magnitude only.
2. Static flexibility improves static flexibility and dynamic flexibility improves dynamic flexibility which is why you should not static stretch prior to dynamic activity.
3. When compared, a team that dynamically stretched to a team that static stretched. The team that dynamically stretched had fewer injuries.
4. There are few sports where achieving static flexibility is advantageous to success in the sport. It is more advantageous to perform a dynamic warm-up which more resembles the activity of the sport.
5. Dynamic Flexibility increases core temperature, muscle temperature, elongates the muscles, stimulates the nervous system, and helps decrease the chance of injury.
6. Dynamic stretching does increase flexibility.
As coaches, sports physiotherapists, trainers and parents we all want our athletes to lower their incidence of injury and increase performance. Dynamic flexibility has been used successfully by physiotherapists, trainers and coaches to increase flexibility and possibly lower the incidence of injury.
It is the job of the coach, team physiotherapist or trainer to pick the method they feel is best suited for the sport and athletes. The above evidence suggests the possibility that static stretching prior to activity is not the best solution.
Static stretching doesn’t necessarily lead to a decrease in injury and but may actually decrease performance.
If one purpose of the warm-up is to warm-up the body, wouldn’t static stretching actually cool the body down?
If static stretching is not the solution to a pre-game warm-up what is? Dynamic stretching.
A sports performance program could look like this:
Beginning – Dynamic warm up
Middle – Actual workout
End – Cool down/static stretching
Vibhav Singh: Team physiotherapist Golden Arrows FC
Golden Arrows play Ajax Cape Town in the MTN final on the 24th of October at Orlando Stadium. The winners take 8 Million Rand.