Stretching – What Does the Science Say?

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Is Your “Warm-up” Harmful to Your Strength?

Are you still warming up like you did in high school? Chances are that your coach was a little out of date with his practices when he designed his protocols for preparing for a game or training session. Do you know where he got his ideas for a great warm up? If you guessed from his high school coach, then you’re spot on. Do you know where his coach got the idea? You get the point.

A warm up plays an important role in preparation for exercise performance. If well executed, it can raise core body temperature, increase blood flow to the working muscles, enhance metabolic reactions, and increase joint range of motion. These effects can boost exercise performance by enhancing oxygen delivery, increasing the speed of nerve-impulse transmissions, improving rate of force development, and maximizing strength and power (1, 6).

The old school method of static stretching to prepare for an event is making its way out of the door fast, and for good reason.  Dynamic warm ups or performing primer movements before your training session can be the most beneficial to your strength and power performance.

 

What does the Research Say?

 

Static Stretching:

A growing body of research evidence is indicating that preparation static stretching of primary movers may actually have a detrimental effect on force production, power performance, strength endurance, reaction time, and running speed (3). If you are an athlete, or even just the average gym goer, this is not optimal for performance.

This detriment of preparation static stretching is thought to be related to a decrease in neural activation, and reduced musculotendinous stiffness – causing a higher risk for injury (2, 5).

 

Static Stretching

 

This is not to say that static stretching is an enemy, it just deserves a special place in your program. When placed in a sensible place, static stretching has been seen to improve range of motion around a joint, and potentially improve strength and power performance (7).

Dynamic Stretching or Primer Movements:

Recent scientific evidence demonstrates the potentially detrimental effects of pre-activity static stretching protocols used in a traditional warm-up, dynamic warm-up protocols that simulate movements that occur in daily activities and sport have become increasingly popular with strength and conditioning professionals.

This type of warm-up typically includes movements of low, moderate, and high intensity that increase body temperature, enhance motor-unit excitability, develop kinesthetic awareness, and maximize active ranges of motion (5).

Primer Movements:

Primer movements can be defined simply as a preparation exercise to subsequent related exercises. The purpose of this movement is to allow the body to adjust to the changes in physiological demands of the exercise session without fatigue. For example, performing the seated knee extension exercise before the barbell back squat. Both exercises utilize knee extension, but starting with the seated knee extension can create a stable environment to properly warm up your muscles and nervous system. This idea of primer movements can be utilized in many ways for all muscle groups.

 

stretching

 

Key Points:

1.       A growing body of research evidence is indicating that preparation static stretching of primary movers may actually have a detrimental effect on force production, power performance, strength endurance, reaction time, and running speed.

2.       Dynamic warm-up protocols include movements of low, moderate, and high intensity that increase body temperature, enhance motor-unit excitability, develop kinesthetic awareness, and maximize active ranges of motion.

3.       Primer movements can be defined simply as a preparation exercise to subsequent related exercises. The purpose of this movement is to allow the body to adjust to the changes in physiological demands of the exercise session without fatigue. The idea of primer movements can be utilized in many ways for all muscle groups.

 

 

References:

1.       Asmussen E, Bonde-Peterson F, Jorgenson K. Mechano-elastic properties of human muscles at different temperatures. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica. 1976; 96: 86-93.
2.       Behm D, Button D, Butt JC. Factors affecting force loss with prolonged stretching. Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology. 2001; 26: 262-272.
3.       Behm DG, Bambury A, Cahill F, Power K. Effect of acute stretching on force, balance, reaction time, and movement time. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. August 2004; 36(8): 1397-1402.
4.       Fowles J, Sale D, MacDougall J. Reduces stretch after passive stretch of human plantar flexors. Journal of Applied Physiology. 2000; 89: 1179-1188.
5.       Hedrick A. Dynamic flexibility training. Strength and Conditioning. 2000; 22(5): 33-38.
6.       Sargeant A, Hoinville E, Young A. Maximum leg force and power output during short-term dynamic exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology. 1981; 26: 188-194.
7.       Kokkonen J, Nelson A, Eldrege C, Winchester JB. Chronic static stretching improves exercise performance. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2007; 39(10): 1825-1831.

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