Pre-exercise Stretching and Performance
Research offers insight into flexibility, function and the pros and cons of stretching prior to activity.
by Janot, Jeffrey M., Lance C. Dalleck, and Corey Reyment | First Published in IDEA Fitness Journal. 4.2 (Feb 2007): 44(8)
Outline of the Study
This study provides an extensive review of literature relating to pre-exercise stretching and its effect on athletic performance. In addition to acute static stretching, the study considers the effects of proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF), ballistic and dynamic stretching. While each of these techniques has shown effectiveness in various studies examining ROM, they appear to differ in their impact on exercise performance.
The article begins with a helpful primer on the physiology of acute stretching, outlining the mechanical and neural factors believed to be involved in post-stretching muscular deficit. The review reiterates the evidence of recent research which suggest that pre-exercise stretching may be of limited utility for injury prevention and further, may unfavorably impact athletic performance.
Finally, a holistic assessment is provided to help athletes determine the timing, duration and form of stretching best suited to achieving particular goals. Dynamic rather than static stretching is favored in general for positive results.
What the Study Was Trying to Prove
By focusing on a broad range of studies relating to post-stretching performance, the study seeks to clarify current understanding of stretching benefits and downsides. While certain performance benefits previously ascribed to stretching have not been born out in the material this study reviews, nevertheless, goal-directed stretching for specific purposes and under particular timing conditions may be beneficial. Areas for further research are also considered.
Stretching-induced force deficits have been observed in a number of studies. The present article suggests both mechanical and neural factors which may be responsible. On the mechanical side, temporary loss of muscular stiffness following stretching is believed to cause decreases in force and power production. Neural factors include decreased neuromuscular activation, (though the precise mechanism leading to decreased force and power production remains poorly understood).
Performance deficits from pre-exercise stretching appear in cited studies relating to muscle strength and power, maximal voluntary contraction (MVC) of the plantar flexors, peak torque and mean power output, jumping performance, running speed and economy, and muscular strength endurance.
Summary of Results
With respect to acute static stretching, the study summarizes their results as follows: “Collectively, present research findings suggest that there are no ergogenic benefits, and there are potentially detrimental effects, to incorporating static-stretching exercises into the warm-up routine.” That being said, the study does find benefit in dynamic stretching, which involves movements designed to mimic specific actions occurring during athletic performance.
Dynamic stretching for example, yielded significantly faster 10m run times (acceleration) as well as better zigzag run times implying increased agility as compared with both static and no stretching routines. Dynamic stretching also significantly improved speed as seen in flying 20 m run times. Such dynamic stretching protocols are believed to enhance blood flow and increase core temperature.
The authors conclude their review by stressing goal-directed stretching based on current data. These suggest that athletes requiring enhanced ROM (such as dancers, divers, gymnasts or those in post-rehabilitation) will benefit from stretching, though others requiring increased explosive power, strength or jumping ability may see their output diminished by pre-exercise stretching. While results on dynamic stretching are preliminary, the technique seems promising in terms of delivering benefits and reducing or eliminating muscular reduction typical of acute static stretching regimens.
To do away with stiff, tight muscles and joints, and become loose, limber and pain free, grab a copy of the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility.
In no time you'll... Improve your freedom of movement and full-body mobility. Get rid of those annoying aches, pains and injuries. And take your flexibility (and ease of movement) to the next level.
You'll get 135 clear photographs and 44 video demonstrations of unique stretching exercises for all the major muscle groups in your body. Plus, the DVD includes 3 customized stretching routines (8 minutes each) for the Upper Body; the Lower Body; and the Neck, Back & Core. And the Handbook will show you, step-by-step, how to perform each stretch correctly and safely.
Get back to the activities you love. Whether it’s enjoying your favorite sport, or walking the dog, or playing with the grand kids. Imagine getting out of bed in the morning with a spring in your step. Or being able to work in the garden or play your favorite sport without “paying-for-it” the next day.
- American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). 2005. ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription (7th ed.). Baltimore: Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins.
- Behm, D., Button, D., & Butt, J. 2001. Factors affecting force loss with prolonged stretching. Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology, 26 (3), 261-72.
- Burkett, L., Phillips, W., & Ziuraitis, J. 2005. The best warm-up for the vertical jump in college age athletic men. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 19 (3), 673-76.
- Church, J., et al. 2001. Effect of warm-up and flexibility treatments on vertical jump performance. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 15 (3), 332-36.
- Evetovich, T., et al. 2003. Effect of static stretching of the biceps brachii on torque, dectromyography, and mechanomyography during concentric isokinetic muscle actions. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 17 (3), 484-88.
- Fletcher, I., & Jones, B. 2004. The effect of different warm-up stretch protocols on 20 meter sprint performance in trained rugby union players. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 18 (4), 885-88.
- Fowles, J., Sale, D., & MacDougall, J. 2000. Reduced strength after passive stretch of the human plantarflexors. Journal of Applied Physiology, 89 (3), 1179-88.
- Fredette, D. 2001. Exercise recommendations for flexibility and range of motion. In J. Roitman (Ed.), ACSM Resource Manual for Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription (4th ed.). Baltimore: Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins.
- Godges, J., et al. 1989. Effects of two stretching procedures on hip range of motion and gait economy. Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy, 10 (9), 350-57.
- Heyward, V. 2006. Advanced Fitness Assessment and Exercise Prescription (5th ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
- Knudson, D. 1999. Stretching during warm-up: Do we have enough evidence? Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, 70, 24-27, 51.
- Kokkonen, J., Nelson, A., & Cornwell, A. 1998. Acute muscle stretching inhibits maxi- mal strength performance. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 69, 411-15.
- Kovacs, M. 2006. The argument against static stretching before sport and physical activity. Athletic Therapy Today, 11 (3), 6-8.
- Little, T., & Williams, A. 2006. Effects of differential stretching protocols during warm ups on high-speed motor capacities in professional soccer players. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 20 (1), 203-207.
- Marek, S., et al. 2005. Acute effects of static and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching on muscle strength and power output. Journal of Athletic Training, 40(2), 94-103.
- Nelson, A., & Kokkonen, J. 200l. Acute ballistic muscle stretching inhibits maximal strength performance. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 72, 415-19.
- Nelson, A., et al. 2001. Inhibition of maximal voluntary isokinetic torque production following stretching is velocity-specific. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 15 (2), 241-46.
- Nelson, A., et al. 2005. Acute effects of passive muscle stretching on sprint performance. Journal of Sports Science, 23 (5), 449-54.
- Nelson, A., Kokkonen, J., & Arnall, D. 2005. Acute muscle stretching inhibits muscle strength endurance performance. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 19(2), 338-43.
- Nelson, A., Kokkonen, J., & Eldredge, C. 2005. Strength inhibition following an acute stretch is not limited to novice stretchers. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport; 76 (4), 500-506.
- Pope, R., et al. 2000. A randomized trial of preexercise stretching for prevention of lower limb injury. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 32 (2), 271-77.
- Rosenbaum, D., & Hennig, E. 1995. The influence of stretching and warm tip exercises on Achilles tendon reflex activity. Journal of Sports Sciences, 13,481-90.
- Shrier, I. 1999. Stretching before exercise does not reduce the risk of local muscle injury: A critical review of the clinical and basic science literature. Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, 9 (4), 221-27.
- Shrier, I. 2004. Does stretching improve performance: A systematic and critical review of the literature. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 14 (5), 267-73.
- Siatras, T., et al. 2003. Static and dynamic acute stretching effect on gymnasts’ speed in vaulting. Pediatric Exercise Science, 15 (4), 383-91.
- Unick, J., et al. 2005. The acute effects of static and ballistic stretching on vertical jump performance in trained women. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 19 (1), 206-12.
- Young, W., & Behm, D. 2003. Effects of running, static stretching and practice jumps on explosive force production and jumping performance. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 43 (1), 1-27.
- Young, W., & Elliott, S. 2001. Acute effects of static stretching, proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching, and maximum voluntary contractions on explosive force production and jumping performance. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 72 (3), 273-79.