To stretch or not to stretch

Originally published in Hard2Guard Player Development Newsletter, 5.24

Based on information suggested by well-known coaches and students in my classes, people are married to the idea that static stretching prior to intense activity is the best way to warm up and/or prevent injuries. A recent study by Amiri-Khorasani and colleagues (2010) tested the effects of different stretching warm-ups on the Illinois Agility Test (IAT) with professional soccer players.

The IAT is a popular test of agility, though it is more appropriate as a measure of soccer agility than basketball agility because of the lack of lateral movement.

“The length of the course is 10 meters and the width (distance between the start and finish points) is 5 meters. Four cones are used to mark the start, finish and the two turning points. Another four cones are placed down the center an equal distance apart. Each cone in the center is spaced 3.3 meters apart. Subjects should lie on their front (head to the start line) and hands by their shoulders. On the ‘Go’ command the stopwatch is started, and the athlete gets up as quickly as possible and runs around the course in the direction indicated, without knocking the cones over, to the finish line, at which the timing is stopped.”

The study compared static, dynamic, and the combination of static and dynamic stretching within a pre-exercise warm-up prior to the IAT. There was significant decrease in agility time following dynamic stretching vs. static stretching in both less and more experienced players. When static stretching was combined with dynamic stretching, there appeared to be no adverse effect. However, dynamic stretching was the most effective warm-up for the IAT with professional soccer players.

Amiri-Khorasani and colleagues (2010) focused on performance decrements caused by static stretching. Similarly, Wallmann, Mercer, and McWhorter (2005) found that stretching the  gastrocnemius muscle reduced vertical-jump height by 5.6%.

One could argue that small performance decrements would be worth a reduction in injuries. However, numerous studies have concluded that the benefits in terms of injury prevention or minimal at best. Pope and colleagues (2000) found that a typical pre-exercise stretching protocol does not produce a clinically useful reduction in injury risk. Another review of literature by Thacker and colleagues (2004) found that stretching was not significantly associated with a reduction in total injuries, and therefore, there is not sufficient evidence to endorse or discontinue routine stretching before or after exercise to prevent injury among competitive or recreational athletes.

Based on these and other similar studies, pre-practice or pre-game static stretching for purposes of improving performance or preventing injury would be unnecessary, and dynamic warm-ups would provide a better warm-up for performance enhancement.

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