Stretching for Performance – When and Whom to Stretch
Regular stretching increases force and power by 2% to 5% and improves running speed by 0.06 seconds over 50-yards.
by Ian Shrier, MD, PhD. | First Published in the Physician and Sports Medicine Vol. 33 – No. 3 – March 2005
Outline of the Study
This article surveys existing literature on the use of stretching prior to athletic activity, focusing on differences in performance obtained by regular, daily routines, as opposed to sporadic stretches. While isolated stretching immediately prior to exercise has been shown to have no effect on injury prevention and a negative impact on power and strength performance, regular stretching performed every day yields benefits in several areas.
The authors recommend regular stretching routines, outlining the basic science of stretching and suggest stretching regimens of greatest utility for practicing athletes. These are shown to be highly dependent on the desired results, as well as the pre-existing state of fitness and the particular athletic event undertaken. Although range of motion increases with both regular and sporadic stretching, the approaches are otherwise postulated to have opposite effects on athletic performance, particularly in force, power and speed for running events.
What the Study Was Trying to Prove
One major contention of the study is that regular stretching carried out daily for several weeks delivers improvements in force and power similar to those obtained through weight training. Though the improvements are modest and range from 2-5%, the author’s stress that in elite athletic situations; this can make the difference between winning a gold medal and not placing in an event.
By contrast, power and force decrease immediately following bouts of acute stretching, whether static or through proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF). (Similar decreases are seen in muscular isometric maximal voluntary contraction, isokinetic torque, static jump height, countermovement jump height, and drop jump height.) The authors points out however, that despite such performance decreases following acute stretching, there is a corresponding improvement in economy of motion, i.e., the amount of oxygen required to run a given distance. Studies to date have frequently failed to weigh both the pro and cons.
Summary of Results
Improvements in force, power and running speed are noted following regular stretching, in marked contrast to acute stretches performed immediately prior to exercise, which tend to yield opposite effects, (though acute stretching is helpful in certain situations, particularly where the benefits of increased ROM outweigh the limits to force and power production). This follows for a variety of activities, again including isometric maximal voluntary contraction, isokinetic torque, static jump height, countermovement jump height, and drop jump height. Running economy remains unchanged, following regular daily stretching.
Stretching immediately before exercise is deemed ineffective in preventing injuries and also reduces force and power by about 2% to 5%. Regular stretching over weeks yields opposite effects, increasing force and power by about 2% to 5% while improving running speed by about 0.06 second during a 50-yard dash. The authors helpfully include a broad range of “vignettes” designed to evaluate the relative benefits of stretching for athletes of various ages, strengths and degrees of flexibility. These vignettes present a more nuanced picture of the benefits and shortcomings of both acute and daily stretching for given athletes under specific conditions.
To do away with stiff, tight muscles and joints, and become loose, limber and pain free, grab a copy of the Ultimate Stretching Video & Book Guide.
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.
Dr Shrier is director of the consultation service at the Centre for Clinical Epidemiology and Community Studies at Sir Mortimer B. Davis-Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, and is an assistant professor in the department of family medicine at McGill University in Montreal.
- Best TM: Muscle-tendon injuries in young athletes. Clin Sports Med 1995;14(3):669-686
- Garrett WE Jr: Muscle strain injuries: clinical and basic aspects. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1990;22(4):436-443
- Safran MR, Seaber AV, Garrett WE Jr: Warm-up and muscular injury prevention: an update. Sports Med 1989;8(4):239-249
- Shrier I: Does stretching help prevent injuries? in MacAuley D, Best T (eds): Evidence-Based Sports Medicine. London, BMJ Publishing Group, 2002, pp 97-116
- Shrier I: Does stretching improve performance? a systematic and critical review of the literature. Clin J Sport Med 2004;14(5):267-273
- Thacker SB, Gilchrist J, Stroup DF, et al: The impact of stretching on sports injury risk: a systematic review of the literature. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2004;36(3):371-378
- Shrier I, Gossal K: Myths and truths of stretching: individualized recommendations for healthy muscles. Phys Sportsmed 2000;28(8):57-63
- Arnason A, Sigurdsson SB, Gudmundsson A, et al: Risk factors for injuries in football. Am J Sports Med 2004;32(1 suppl):5S-16S
- Emery CA, Meeuwisse WH: Risk factors for groin injuries in hockey. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2001;33(9):1423-1433
- Witvrouw E, Danneels L, Asselman P, et al: Muscle flexibility as a risk factor for developing muscle injuries in male professional soccer players: a prospective study. Am J Sports Med 2003;31(1):41-46
- Guissard N, Duchateau J, Hainaut K: Mechanisms of decreased motoneurone excitation during passive muscle stretching. Exp Brain Res 2001;137(2):163-169
- Shrier I: Stretching and injury. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2004;36:1832
- de Vries HA: The “looseness” factor in speed and O2 consumption of an anaerobic 100-yard dash. Res Quarterly 1963;34(3):305-313
- Pyke FS: The effect of preliminary activity on maximal motor performance. Res Q 1968;39(4):1069-1076
- Nelson AG, Driscoll NM, Landin DK: Acute effects of passive muscle stretching on sprint performance. J Sports Sci; In press
- Herbert RD, Gabriel M: Effects of stretching before and after exercising on muscle soreness and risk of injury: systematic review. BMJ 2002;325(7362):468
- Shrier I: Stretching before exercise does not reduce the risk of local muscle injury: a critical review of the clinical and basic science literature. Clin J Sport Med 1999;9(4):221-227
- Amako M, Oda T, Masuoka K, et al: Effect of static stretching on prevention of injuries for military recruits. Mil Med 2003;168(6):442-446
- Hartig DE, Henderson JM: Increasing hamstring flexibility decreases lower extremity overuse injuries in military basic trainees. Am J Sports Med 1999;27(2):173-176
- Hilyer JC, Brown KC, Sirles AT, et al: A flexibility intervention to reduce the incidence and severity of joint injuries among municipal firefighters. J Occup Med 1990;32(7):631-637