Every day I see the same thing with one client or another. After a long day at work, they will walk in and immediately start doing a static stretch: propping their leg up on something and holding it there. Putting an elbow behind their head and pushing down for 20 or 30 seconds. Every day I tell them they same thing: stop doing the static stretches before workouts and start doing dynamic stretches.
What are the differences between static and dynamic stretches, and which is more beneficial before a workout?
Let’s get started.
Static stretching is a slow and constant stretch that is held at an end position for up to 30 seconds. The benefits of static stretching involve an increase in flexibility. A lack of flexibility seems to play a role in the development of chronic injuries such as patella femoral syndrome (knee pain), low back pain and shoulder pain. Many people report an alleviation of ailments and pain after a rigorous static stretching regimen has been implemented. Since performance can be inhibited by inflexibility, static stretching done at the right time may help increase performance levels.
Dutch Lowy going through some dynamic stretches.
Dynamic stretching uses momentum, speed of movement, and active muscular effort to bring about a stretch. Unlike static stretching, the end position is not held. Dynamic stretching is similar to ballistic stretching except that it avoids bouncing motions and tends to incorporate more sports-specific movements. Dynamic stretching is useful due to its effects of reducing muscle tightness, which is a factor associated with an increased occurrence of musculotendinous tears.
Which Is Superior Before A Workout?
Pretty much beginning in grade school, people are taught the static stretches as part of a warm up before sporting events, training sessions, and weightlifting training. The problem with that is, static stretching is much less beneficial that dynamic stretching as part of a warm up.
Multiple studies have been conducted on this subject since the 1980’s on the benefits of dynamic stretching during warm up. Studies have shown that the dynamic range of motion (DROM) is significantly increased for the angular displacement of the hip joint, especially compared to static stretching.
In a study testing the “effect of dynamic versus static stretching in the warm-up on hamstring flexibility”, twelve participants were randomly assigned to three interventions of 225 second stretch treatment on separate days:
This is what they found: “The intervention study comparing the effects of static and dynamic stretching routines in the warm-up on hamstring flexibility demonstrated that dynamic stretching enhanced static as well as dynamic flexibility. Static stretching on the other hand did not have an impact on dynamic flexibility. Static stretches may be useful in the cooling down period of training for long term gains in flexibility.”
Dynamic stretching will improve your performance by increasing flexion in the joints and increasing body temperature. Much like how the time of day can determine your body temperature, dynamic stretching will increase your body temperature, causing blood to flow more easily to muscles. The warmer the muscle, the less chance there is of injury. Static stretching decreases the ability to exhibit maximum power or strength for up to 30 minutes after stretching.
Too much static stretching can cause the length of the resting muscle to be too long, and one can encounter the problem of the stretch-shorten reflex to not work as well. Excessive flexibility such as the splits, can be counterproductive for sports that don’t require it because it will decrease your ability in power or strength movements.
For example: The stretch-shorten cycle is also used for energy conservation such as “bouncing” out of the bottom of the squat with the hammies (Oly lifting, weightlifting, etc.) as they lengthen under tension, or in the plyometric moment on the calves/hamstrings during sprinting.
The bottom line is this:
Dynamic stretches are most beneficial before exercise because they warm up the muscles and send blood to them. They also mimic the movements that will be taking place during the exercise.
Static stretches have their place and their place is not before stretching. They should only be done after a workout is finished. You won’t be holding a locked arm behind your head during a workout, so why would you do that for a warm up?
Above all else, don’t be one of those people that thinks they don’t need to warm up. Because those people are stupid.
Sources: 1) National Strength & Conditioning Association. Essentials of strength training & conditioning. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. 2000
2) Witvrouw, E., Danneels, L., Asselman, P., D’Have, T., Cambier, D. Muscle flexibility as a risk factor for developing muscle injuries in male professional soccer players. A prospective study. Am. J. Sports Med. Jan-Feb;31(1):41-6. 2003
3) Krivickas, L.S., Feinberg, J.H. Lower extremity injuries in college athletes: relation between ligamentous laxity and lower extremity muscle tightness. Arch. Phys. Med. Rehabil. Nov;77(11):1139-43. 1996
4) Yamaguchi, T., Ishii, K. Effects of static stretching for 30 seconds and dynamic stretching on leg extension power. J. Strength Cond. Res. Aug;19(3):677-83. 2005
5) Cramer, J.T., Housh, T.J., Weir, J.P., Johnson, G.O., Coburn, J.W., Beck, T.W. The acute effects of static stretching on peak torque, mean power output, electromyography, and mechanomyography. Eur. J. Appl. Physiol. Mar;93(5-6):530-9. 2005. Epub 2004 Dec 15.