To (statically) stretch or not to (statically) stretch

I recently had a debate on Twitter (it’s awesome for this) with @AdamMeakins (he has a lot of followers, so might be worth following) on the positives/negatives of static stretching before performance. This started because of something I said to someone else in a conversation:

“making “good cases” is not the same as evidence. People made “good cases” for static stretching before sport…”

Adam then joined in, and it turned into a debate on the subject of static stretching before sport. It started to go round in circles as it appeared I wasn’t very good at getting my thoughts across in 140 characters. We decided to end it for the day.

Although I love debates/conversations using Twitter (the limit of 140 characters forces you to focus your argument), it does sometimes become difficult for delving deeper into the debate. As such, I thought a more appropriate manner would be to use the unlimited word count I have here to try and get my view across, and largely, to reply to Adam’s latest message (which appears to have drawn a little bit of interest).

The basis of Adam’s argument was that static stretching does not decrease performance, and thus can be used prior to performance. He informed me he uses it with his professional footballers and other clients. From what I was interpreting from him, it appeared to be because they are used to it, and it is part of their routine before a match, and does no harm.

Stuart “Why did you choose to do static stretching beforehand as well as dynamic?”

Adam “because it does no harm & gives perceptions of improved flexibility & ROM!!!”

And that removing this, might affect them psychologically:

Adam “completely different & static stretching incorp into full dynamic warm up covers every aspects, why limit that?”

Stuart “Why limit what?The time required to undertake the warm-up?-Reduced time required? More time in technical? fatigue?”

Adam “limit any possible +ve effects eg psychological etc etc”

To me, that sounds like it isn’t needed, and that it is something we could maybe re-educate the athletes on; requiring either less time in pre-game, or maybe more time on other things (i.e. technical aspects). So I asked him:

Stuart “That sounds like a waste of time to me. Why not re-educate?”

Adam “coz there is nothing to re educate about!!”

I felt this was going round in circles, so I decided to get back to work or, as Adam said, following “research blindly without critically thinking & looking beyond the abstracts” (this was in reply to me saying “I feel this is going round in circles. I’m confused why you read the evidence and yet don’t seem to apply it.”; so it may have been a little dig at me).

Anyway, yesterday (a day or so after our initial debate) Adam sent me an article, telling me he thinks I should read it. Even though I’d already read it (I do sometimes read beyond the abstract), I thought I’d give him the time and read it again. It was what I remember it to be; the manuscript had errors in the writing, making it questionable as to what they were talking about in the results, the methodology wasn’t actually measuring what the authors purported it to be measuring, and it didn’t seem to be supporting either Adam’s, or my, viewpoint. So I asked if there was a specific conclusion/finding I was meant to be focusing on. This is where Adam sent me this:

@AdamMeakins asks a question

@AdamMeakins asks a question

So, Adam, here’s my response:

1 – Thanks for teaching me something new, I’d never thought of using the notepad and screen capture to produce a larger message within Twitter…why don’t more people do this?!!? Twitter debates just got better. (I wanted to use my site as it is my place for reflection, and provides a source for me to go to in the future and develop from – BUT I’ll definitely be using the notepad idea in the future).

2 – I am a little confused by your question/options. What I have said in my previous discussion with you can be summed up with this Tweet that I previously sent to you:

“No -ve impact does not mean +ve impact. I don’t understand doing something just because no -ve impact?”

I’ll try and clarify this, as you don’t seem to have understood this (I may not have been making myself clear), although @ESPToffical mentioned the same thing last night.

Static stretching of a reduced duration (the generic duration mentioned is <60 seconds) has not been shown to significantly affect performance. Additionally, I don’t think it’s been shown to significantly improve performance (more on specific sports etc below). As such, I don’t think it is worth doing before exercise. You’d get the same increased ROM from dynamic stretching, and I haven’t read any evidence which has suggested dynamic stretching decreases force production (something that static stretches do; with an apparent dose-response; more on this below). I’d love to read more on this if anyone has any recommended research that questions this.

OK, specifically responding to your question:

I wouldn’t “rush over to him and tell him to stop as it will ruin his performance and goes against the research etc, etc” but I wouldn’t “let it be” either. This is where educating the athlete comes into it. Inform them and educate them over a period of time. I’ve had this with many of the people that I coach, and not one has seen a negative impact on their performance by removing static stretching from their “routine”. They become aware and knowledgeable about how the body works and adapts; surely a greater understanding and knowledge is good for an athlete attempting to become the best? It is something that, over time, I would educate the athlete so they understand the evidence themselves.

But then, I never said I would force people to stop static stretching before a match (I’ve had a look back through the messages to see if I did, but I couldn’t find this, so think you may have jumped to conclusions). However, I do think (based on what I’ve read, researched myself, and discussed with others who have written the papers you referred to) that static stretching before practice is a waste of time for most people (I’ll discuss more below on different sports), and as such, I’d educate them, allowing them to make an informed decision themselves.

I’m a little confused by the “and I will UNFOLLOW you in an instant” remark…I’m not really worried about whether you follow me or not. I use Twitter to learn, develop, and reflect; not to get as many followers as possible. Having people follow who are interested in debates/conversations whether we agree or not is great, but if you require me to agree with you for you to follow me, then you might as well unfollow me now.

3 – This point is something that isn’t really addressed in the literature, but has been discussed amongst those involved in the research. Static stretching durations of less than 60 seconds have not been shown to significantly reduce performance (normally some form of force/torque production). However, this does not mean that it doesn’t. It just means that the effect is too small for detection using null-hypothesis significance testing (NHST). This statistical method uses a black-and-white approach to saying whether a null hypothesis can be rejected or not (I think it was Fisher who first suggested using p = 0.05 as the cut-off). As such, by a non-significant finding being reported, the null hypothesis can not be rejected based on the current data. This does not mean the null hypothesis is true though (and this is something that gets confused when interpreting statistics). Importantly, I think the statistical approach applied to analysing this data has not been optimal to answer the main question of duration. To date, the duration of stretching has been analysed as a discrete variable. A more appropriate approach (I think) would be to interpret the duration of stretching as a continuous variable, allowing us to apply a more regression/trend type of analysis. But that’s probably beyond the current discussion.

4 – I think there is an argument for static stretching before performance in a sport in which maximal range of motion (ROM) is required. One main example is that of gymnastics. The reason for this is that it is more controlled in pushing the boundaries of the athlete’s ROM. However, this then should be followed up with a more dynamic type approach. Going back to the general athletic population, this approach is redundant and a waste of time.

5 – Although this debate has been focused around acute stretching prior to performance (probably because there is more research on this; it’s easier to do a single-session test, as opposed to get subjects to stretch continuously), chronic static-stretching has many benefits, and should be done. When the optimal time for this is, is up for debate (too many variables for any research to address so far).

One response to “To (statically) stretch or not to (statically) stretch

  1. Pingback: Why You Shouldn’t Do Static Stretches Before Strenuous Activity. | Sports 'N Health·

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