By Maria Kozikowska
What is static stretching?
Static stretching is a muscle lengthening technique where a stretch position is held for a prolonged time.
What are the benefits of static stretching?
The studies on static stretching and its effects on flexibility showed that regular stretching increases range of motion at the joint and tissue flexibility (1,2,3). Researchers also examined the effects of regular stretching on injury risks and found that injury rates in the individuals that stretched regularly were decreased by up to 43% compared with those that did not stretch (4,5).
Shall I stretch before or after exercise?
This depends on the form of exercise that you are to perform. A number of studies have found that static stretching before exercise can cause a loss of strength as well as vertical jump height and sprint speed. This ‘negative effect’ has been shown to last 10 minutes to an hour. Therefore, if you are to take part in a sprint or lift weights, it is best not to static stretch right before the exercise (6). It is important, however, to note that long-term regular stretching programmes lead to increase of muscular strength, power and balance ability (6).
How long should I hold my stretch for? And how often should I repeat it?
The research on static stretching programmes implemented over a period of four to six weeks found that a frequency of five days per week for the duration of 20 to 30 seconds once daily is most beneficial (1,2). There was no difference in flexibility recorded between those participants that held the stretch for 60 seconds and repeated it twice or three times daily comparing to those that stretched for 30 seconds once daily. However, those that stretched for 30 seconds revealed more flexibility than those that stretched for 15 seconds (1,2), so keep an eye on your watch when you stretch!
How should I stretch to achieve the best results?
To properly perform the stretch, hold it at the first point of resistance. Never force the stretch and stop it immediately if you find it painful.
Are there any contraindications to static stretching?
Yes! Don’t stretch if you suffer from an acute injury such as muscle strain or tear. Avoid stretching if you suffer from osteoporosis or acute rheumatoid arthritis. Be cautious when stretching after joint replacement surgery.
1. Bandy, W. D and Irion, J. M. (1994). ‘The Effect of Time on Static Stretch on the Flexibility of the Hamstring Muscles’. Physical Therapy. [online]. 74 (9), pp. 845-850. Available at: http://physther.net/content/74/9/845.full.pdf
2. Bandy, W. D., Irion, J. M. and Briggler, M. (1997). ‘The Effect of Time and Frequency of Static Stretching on Flexibility of the Hamstring Muscles.’ Physical Therapy. [online]. 77(10), pp. 1090-1096. Available at: http://www.physicaltherapyjournal.com/content/77/10/1090.full.pdf
3. Davis, D. S., Ashby, P. E., McCale, K. L., McQuain, J. A. and Wine, J. M. (2005). ‘The effectiveness of 3 stretching techniques on hamstring flexibility using consistent stretching parameters.’ Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 19(1), pp. 27–32.
4. Hartig, D.E. & Henderson, J.M. (1999). ‘Increasing hamstring flexibility decreases lower extremity overuse injuries in military basic trainees’. The American Journal of Sports Medicine. [online]. 27 (2), pp. 173–6. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10102097
5. Hilyer, J.C, Brown, K.C., Sirles. A.T., Peoples, L. (1990). A flexibility intervention to reduce the incidence and severity of joint injuries among municipal firefighters. J Occup Med. 32(7), pp. 631.
6. Shrier, I. (2004). ‘Does stretching improve performance? A systematic and Critical Review of the Literature’. Clin J Sport Med. 14(5), pp. 267-73.