Static stretching is something that has been around for decades, and has been toted as a way to reduce injury prevention before exercise. Before I step onto a soap box and begin explaining some of the issues that I have with this common misconception, it is important to define static stretching.
I read a simple definition in which I have come to appreciate a few months ago from a thesis written by Cassandre Bernhart from Liberty University
“It occurs when an individual moves his/her body in such a way that a muscle is slowly elongated and then held in that position for a period of time. For example, to statically stretch the hamstrings a seated person with legs straight can bend at the waist and reach for the toes. The individual holds the position for a length of time, usually between 15 and 60 seconds. ”
Defined well, and an example given. Bravo, Cassandre.
Now, Cassandre went on to review all forms of stretching: Static, Dynamic, Ballistic and PNF. I will be focusing on her review of static stretching, and adding some of my own research in to the mix as well.
The biggest failure of modern exercisers is to attribute acute static stretching (that is, static stretching immediately prior to exercise) to a reduction in injury risk. When did this start, and why is it complete bullshit? I am so glad you asked.
In the early 90’s, a RCT (Randomized Control Trial, or the “gold standard” experimental design for a study) on static stretching was administered to 421 active recreational male runners (6-20 miles/week). This study coupled static stretching WITH a warm-up and cool-down, and educational seminars on how to properly warm-up and cool-down in the intervention group, and the control group just ran each week and recorded their mileage without any sort of standardized warm-up/cool-down/static stretching/education.
23 injuries occurred in the control group and 26 in the intervention group. The authors were 100% correct when they stated that:
“The intervention was not effective in reducing the number of running injuries; but it proved significantly effective in improving specific knowledge of warm-up and cool-down techniques in the intervention group. This positive change can perhaps be regarded as a first step on the way to a change of behavior, which may eventually lead to a reduction of running injuries.”
The last sentence that is in bold is what many fitness enthusiasts at the time picked up and ran with. The author legitimately said that both groups experienced an equal amount of injuries whether they performed the intervention or not, but that the intervention group was now more informed than the control group about how to properly warm-up and cool-down. Of course they were. They were forced to go to educational seminars on how to warm-up and cool-down, and the control group was not. Just because they are now better informed has no bearing on the fact that the intervention did not reduce injury risk.
But this got a good amount of media attention for some odd reason, and since static stretching was incorporated into the warm-up, everyone started doing it. Blindly. For no reason, because the article said that nothing was different between the two groups when it came to injury prevention.
More and more research was conducted on acute static stretching as years went on, and the consensus is as follows:
We mistakenly associate “being looser” with “being less prone to injury”.
I will address the previous statement in my next blog post, which will explain why being more flexible is not always a good thing.
Until next time, please do not perform static stretching immediately before you exercise. Many thanks.