Hot Off the Press! Should You Stretch Before Training?

This is the debut post of our new series “Hot Off the Press!” where we will explore the latest research studies and news in the strength and conditioning world. Our goal is to stay up-to-date with new developments in the industry, and keep our readers informed—and entertained.

It’s been a long-held belief that static stretching (holding a stretch for longer than 30 seconds per muscle) should be done prior to training to reduce injury risk and promote greater range of motion for activity. While these tenets hold true, opponents of static stretching argue that it impedes and decreases athletic performance, and should be considered an outdated method of warming up. This debate tends to get pretty heated, pretty fast, and has resulted in many an ugly comment war in forums across the Net. But a study published in the December 2014 issues of Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research might just be the tipping point in this battle.

In a study titled “Differential Effects of 30- Vs. 60-Second Static Muscle Stretching on Vertical Jump Performance,” Brazilian researcher MD Pinto (et al) set out to end this debate once and for all by collecting data on the effect of different time-lengths of static stretching on an athlete’s vertical jump. Male volunteers were tested on their vertical jump ability in 3 different scenarios: 1) with no pre-jump stretching; 2) after 30 seconds of pre-jump stretching per muscle group; and 3) after 60 seconds of pre-jump stretching per muscle group. The subjects were instructed to stretch their calf muscles, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, and quadriceps muscles, resulting in 4 total minutes of stretching for the 30-second test session and 8 total minutes for the 60-second session. They found that 30-second stretches produced the same vertical jump results as the non-stretching session—but that 60-second stretches greatly DECREASED the subject’s vertical jump height and power output.

This study is one of many recent research explorations into the relationship between static stretching and athletic performance, but is the first to specifically investigate the effect of different lengths of static stretching. And these findings could go a long way towards shifting the traditional practice of lengthy static stretching sessions before activity to a more dynamic warm-up approach, with a greater focus on specific joint mobilization techniques. But let me be clear: static stretching isn't inherently BAD for you. It is a great way to increase your range of motion, which can translate to better performance. This study simply concludes that static stretching for at least 60 seconds BEFORE an activity decreases your body's maximal power. So the next time you’re gearing up for a workout, athletic competition, or any other activity that requires high power output and performance, don’t warm up with long stretches! Instead, try preparing your body for performance with dynamic stretches and movements that mimic your activity. High knees, tin soldiers, and inch worms will provide a better warm-up for physical preparation than long, drawn-out stretching sessions at the beginning of a workout. Save static stretching for after your workout to gain range of motion without negatively affecting your athletic performance.

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Christye Estes, CSCS, ACSM-CPT, is one of the regular contributors to the Volt blog. She is a CSCS-certified strength coach, a certified personal trainer through the ACSM, and a Sports Performance Specialist at Volt.
Learn more about Christye and read her other posts | @CoachChristye