The role of stretching in warming up
Static, passive and prolonged stretching during warm-up has long been seen as an asset for injury prevention and performance enhancement. However, the validity of these practices has been proven wrong on numerous occasions(1). Indeed, some studies have noted that this leads to a temporary drop in strength, and that perceived gains in flexibility are ephemeral(1).
Firstly, it would appear that this type of stretching, if carried out for a prolonged period (between 1 minute 30 seconds and 3 minutes), reduces the electrical activity of the muscles(2,3). The result is reduced strength and, to a lesser extent, power and performance(1). What’s more, during prolonged static stretching, this loss of strength occurs before the reduction in muscle stiffness. So, if there is a temporary gain in flexibility, there is necessarily a loss of muscular strength(1).
At the same time, a gain in flexibility following static stretching fades very quickly. For example, if you stretch a muscle group passively for 2 minutes, it will return to its pre-stretch state after just 10 minutes.
On another note, before implementing stretching in the warm-up, we should ask ourselves what type of stretching is best suited to the actions that will be performed during the match. For example, dynamic stretching, such as moving the leg back and forth through a wide range of motion, is generally better suited to the demands of team sports than passive, static, prolonged stretching. What’s more, dynamic stretching appears to have a momentary positive effect on power, as well as a short-term effect on flexibility similar to static stretching(5).
In short, prolonged static stretching is not indicated if done alone before training. However, if combined with other warm-up exercises, such as running drills, they would not affect power and strength(1). This combination represents an interesting avenue for preparing athletes for sports performance.
Written by Mathieu Lanoue, kinesiology trainee
1. McHugh, M. P. Cosgrave, C. H. (2009). To stretch or not to strecth: the role of stretching in injury prevention and performance. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 20:169-181.
2. Avela, J. Kyrolainen, H. Komi, PV. (1999) Altered reflex sensitivity after repeated and prolonged passive muscle stretching. J Appl Physiol. 86:1283-1291.
3. Avela, J. Finni, T. Liikavainio, T. Niemala, E. Komi, PV. (2004) Neural and mechanical responses of the triceps surae muscle group after 1h of repeated fast passive stretches. J Appl Physiol. 96:2325-2332.
4. Cramer, JT. Housh, TJ. Weir, JP. Johnson, GO. Coburn, JW. Beck, TW. (2005).The acute effects of static stretching on peak torque, mean power output, electromyography, and mechanomyography. Eur J Appl Physiol. 93(5-6):530-9.
5. Behm, D.G. Chaouachi, A. (2011). A review of the acute effects of static and dynamic stretching on performance. Eur J Appl Physiol. 111:2633-2651.
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