June 30th, 2010
by Mike T Nelson · Filed Under: athletic performance
The 4S Rule: Static Stretching Still Sucks
For the long time readers of this blog, you will know I am not a fan of static stretching. While it will not kill you or make your patella fly across the room and knock someone out, I still put it at the bottom of my list of things to try.
Carson at Boddicker Performance had a great video awhile back about static stretching that got me thinking again about it.
I did a MS in Mechanical Engineering, so I am familiar with the whole mechanical properties and geek speak that goes with it as most of my classes were in biomechanics and solid mechanics. Solid mechanics is the advance study of how crap breaks. I do confess that I can’t remember all the little details (ok, most of the details) from my Advanced Mathematical Theory of Plasticity class other than it made my life hell at the time.
Why No Love For Static Stretching?
My biggest concerns are
1) Push Into the Stretch
Somebody pushing an athlete into a stretch with no regards for the response from their body (again, not saying the viewers here are doing that, just in general) is a very bad idea. I see videos of this all time and I have to shake my head about the risk/reward of doing it.
This just seems like a bad idea
I am sure there are probably some cases where it helps, but I don’t think the average trainer is skilled enough to do it and there are much much better ways to get athletes to move better. Pushing their limbs into an end range of motion and holding them there for a magical 5 count seems nuts.
2) What are you really teaching the body by stretching?
I believe you are teaching it weakness at an end range of motion.
Take any limb, push it to an end range of motion and hold it there until it gets “weaker” (yes I understand the differences in stiffness, vs flexibility etc).
I don’t want my athletes (nor myself) to be WEAK at END ROM.
3) Static stretching before an event reduces power output.
We don’t need more studies on this (see references at the end), but I see more and more studies on this all the time. Enough with the friggin studies, go find some better questions to ask.
Yes I know waiting or a dynamic mobility routine will change this, but if it decreased power and something else made them better, why would we waste time on static stretching?
4) Stillness = Rigid tissue
Thanks to Frankie for this one. Holding a stretch is stillness (no movement) at an end range of motion = more rigid tissue.
The body will adapt by increased the rigidity (stiffness) of the tissue. This is not a good idea. Scar tissue is more rigid and is a good work around, but not as good as the original tissue.
Everyone agrees that the hip flexors and especially the psoas are “short” and tight now in most athletes. How did they get that way? Probably from all that sitting on your butt you are doing (myself included in that one too).
It is just an adaptation to a shortened position (the hip flexors are shorter in a seated position). The body is ALWAYS adapting.
So why is it such a stretch (hahahaha, I make bad joke) to think that the body will not adapt to an end position of a static stretch? I agree you may “lengthen” the tissue a bit, but at what cost? What tissue properties have you altered?
Movement = more flexible “happy” tissue
Making flexibly tissue rigid is a very bad idea.
Big Can o’ Worms Opened Up- Bonus Item!
Isometrics are not much better either.
Long plank holds are teaching tissue to be rigid. Yes I understand all the studies that look at this, but it is also not very specific. When does an athlete ever stay in a plank position for 60 seconds at a time in a game? Hmmmm, how about never.
I understand that it is hard for many athletes to do long plank holds and they may shake like a leaf in a tornado and there is evidence that it may be a SCREEN for low back pain (reference McGill), but I don’t think athlete should be TRAINING this way.
I doubt a long plank hold will do crap for a fast volleyball spike in regards to core force transfer or a baseball player hitting a home run.
Low load, long duration movement has a very low chance of positively transferring to a very high output, short, explosive movement (hitting a baseball, volleyball serve/spike, etc)
We want the CORRECT tissue for the CORRECT job.
So If You Don’t Use Static Stretching, What Do You Use?
As I pointed out in this post on corrective exercise, I actually use exercise to correct issues. Go figure. But I don’t use tons of “corrective exercise work”
I have the athlete test the exercise (as shown in the Grip n Rip DVD) via range of motion and if it is good, the athlete is moving in the right direction. The exercise is then showing a positive adaptation (instead of a negative one where range of motion decreases). Simple.
Sometimes I will use some joint mobility work, but only when needed. I only get as fine as needed and start with gross movements first based on this post on Purposeful Joint Mobility
Correct exercise under load is a powerful stimulus.
Yikes, off my soap box I go.
What do you think? Do you use static stretching? Has it helped? What have you found that works?
If you want to make the best progress of your life just like over 100 other people, pick up a copy of Grip n Rip today!
REFERENCES on static stretching
1. Avela J., H. Kyrolainen, P. V. Komi. Altered reflex sensitivity after repeated and prolonged passive muscle stretching. J Appl Physiol. 86(4):1283-1291, 1999.
2. Behm D. G., D. C. Button, J. C. Butt. Factors affecting force loss with prolonged stretching. Can J Appl Physiol. 26(3):261-272, 2001.
5. Church J. B., M. S. Wiggins, F. M. Moode, R. Crist. Effect of warm-up and flexibility treatments on vertical jump performance. J Strength Cond Res. 15(3):332-336, 2001.
9. Cornwell A., A. G. Nelson, B. Sidaway. Acute effects of stretching on the neuromechanical properties of the triceps surae muscle complex. Eur J Appl Physiol. 86(5):428-434, 2002.
10. Cramer J. T., T. J. Housh, G. O. Johnson, J. M. Miller, J. W. Coburn, T. W. Beck. Acute effects of static stretching on peak torque in women. J Strength Cond Res. 18(2):236-241, 2004.
11. Cramer J. T., T. J. Housh, J. P. Weir, G. O. Johnson, J. W. Coburn, T. W. Beck. The acute effects of static stretching on peak torque, mean power output, electromyography, and mechanomyography. Eur J Appl Physiol. 93(5-6):530-539, 2005.
13. Evetovich T. K., N. J. Nauman, D. S. Conley, J. B. Todd. Effect of static stretching of the biceps brachii on torque, electromyography, and mechanomyography during concentric isokinetic muscle actions. J Strength Cond Res. 17(3):484-488, 2003.
14. Faigenbaum A. D., M. Bellucci, A. Bernieri, B. Bakker, K. Hoorens. Acute effects of different warm-up protocols on fitness performance in children. J Strength Cond Res. 19(2):376-381, 2005.
15. Fletcher I. M., R. Anness. The acute effects of combined static and dynamic stretch protocols on fifty-meter sprint performance in track-and-field athletes. J Strength Cond Res. 21(3):784-787, 2007.
16. Fletcher I. M., B. Jones. The effect of different warm-up stretch protocols on 20 meter sprint performance in trained rugby union players. J Strength Cond Res. 18(4):885-888, 2004.
17. Fowles J. R., D. G. Sale, J. D. MacDougall. Reduced strength after passive stretch of the human plantarflexors. J Appl Physiol. 89(3):1179-1188, 2000.
21. Knudson D., K. Bennett, R. Corn, D. Leick, C. Smith. Acute effects of stretching are not evident in the kinematics of the vertical jump. J Strength Cond Res. 15(1):98-101, 2001.
27. Marek S. M., J. T. Cramer, A. L. Fincher, et al. Acute Effects of Static and Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation Stretching on Muscle Strength and Power Output. J Athl Train. 40(2):94-103, 2005.
30. Nelson A. G., N. M. Driscoll, D. K. Landin, M. A. Young, I. C. Schexnayder. Acute effects of passive muscle stretching on sprint performance. J Sports Sci. 23(5):449-454, 2005.
31. Nelson A. G., I. K. Guillory, C. Cornwell, J. Kokkonen. Inhibition of maximal voluntary isokinetic torque production following stretching is velocity-specific. J Strength Cond Res. 15(2):241-246, 2001.
32. Power K., D. Behm, F. Cahill, M. Carroll, W. Young. An acute bout of static stretching: effects on force and jumping performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 36(8):1389-1396, 2004.
34. Wallmann H. W., J. A. Mercer, J. W. McWhorter. Surface electromyographic assessment of the effect of static stretching of the gastrocnemius on vertical jump performance. J Strength Cond Res. 19(3):684-688, 2005.
35. Weir D. E., J. Tingley, G. C. Elder. Acute passive stretching alters the mechanical properties of human plantar flexors and the optimal angle for maximal voluntary contraction. Eur J Appl Physiol. 93(5-6):614-623, 2005.g