In Defence of……..Static Stretching

Static stretching gets a lot of bad press at the moment, it is apparently dangerous.
Supposedly it leaves you weak and injury prone.

And to a degree these statements are accurate.
Static stretching is most often seen in the warm up. You now the drill, bloke walks into the gym and the first thing he does is bend over and try to touch his toes. Go into many martial arts classes and the first thing you are told to do is drop into a deep stretch.

Yes, this is wrong and potentially dangerous.

However, it is not the fault of static stretching technique, it is simply inappropriate and improper use of static stretching.

It has been shown in studies that a stretched muscle is left weak for a brief time period after a statically held stretch, if memory serves me correct it’s an hour or so before full strength is returned, but by this time the stretch will also have worn off. (if you want references, ask Google).
Stretching while the muscle is cold is also a rather futile endeavour (see this post for more on that)

So stretching as a warm up gives us a poor return on the effort put in, ie we don’t get much of an improvement, and it leaves us at a greater injury risk for the duration of our training.

It looks like static stretching should be confined to the scrap heap.

Or are we missing something?
After all, your physio always recommend it when your hurt, you do it in Yoga and it’s been a mainstay of martial artists forever.

Yes, static stretching has it’s place.
If your hurt, chances are your muscles have tightened around the injury forming a “splint” to support the injury. Sometimes these muscles forget to let go and need reminded of their optimal length.
Sitting at a desk all day, or holding specific postures in a sport can lead to muscle tightness that will need stretched out.
For those looking to develop greater flexibility, static stretching is the way to go, but how?

Simple, leave it until the end of the workout before you attempt any sort of developmental stretching. If you simply need to stretch to get into certain positions, do a few minutes of light cardio and mobility work first, then stretch the  tight spots.
It’s rare that I let people use static stretching before a workout, but if they can’t even get into the bottom position of a deadlift due to tightness, some times we just have to bite the bullet, but not until we’ve done a few round of skipping and yogability.

There are various methods of static stretching but the main point to remember is that a stretch should be uncomfortable but not painful.
Most of the time I let people just relax into a position, after a few seconds the muscle releases a little allowing you to sink deeper, this is a slow and gradual process that rewards patience.
You can add in slightly more involved techniques such as reciprocal inhibition or PNF. These are a little more advanced, so get to know your body before attempting them.

Using reciprocal inhibition basically means that you tense the opposing muscle to the one you are stretching. The easiest example is if you were stretching your biceps, you’d flew your triceps. As the two muscles work in opposition, when the tricep tenses (to straighten your arm) the bicep must release to allow this happen. If the body is telling the muscle to relax, then you will get a better stretch.

PNF is often used by physios, but you can do it yourself. Essentially you tense the muscle you wish to stretch, in doing so you “tire out” the Golgi Tendon Organs (GTO), the beasties that tells your body how much tension is in the muscle. Because the GTO takes a minute to get it’s bearing back, you can drop into a deeper stretch before it notices. The added bonus of this is you’re also building isometric strength, double whammy!

So to wrap up.
Static stretching is not the devil, in fact many of us (myself included) should do more of it.
Save it to the END of your training.
Concentrate on problem areas, these may not always be obvious so I’ll give you a hand:

Most people benefit by stretching:

    • Chest / Pectorals
    • Hip Flexors & Quads
    • Glutes

As always, use common sense.



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