If you play or watch organized sports, youth or adult, recreational, amateur, or professional, then you have likely seen the participants stretching. It seems to be a common practice to step on to the field and begin a series of static stretches, either individually or as a team. Traditionally, this is an accepted practice. But the latest research on the effects of stretching suggests that static stretching, done when the muscles are cold, is doing more harm that good, and can actually lead to degraded performance.
Since becoming a running coach and personal trainer, I have come to regard stretching in a different way. The two main methods of stretching that I will address are static and dynamic. Static stretching involves holding a position where a joint is held at (or beyond) the normal limits of its range of motion for some length of time. Dynamic stretching is done while moving, increasing blood circulation and warming the body’s operating temperature.
The following eight principles are adapted from the International Sports Sciences Association and should serve as guidelines on how you should stretch properly.
- Do not bounce while stretching, hold each stretch for 30-60 seconds.
- Stretch regularly, daily if possible, but at least 3-5 times per week.
- Do a dynamic warm-up before static stretching.
- Stretch to mild discomfort, never to the point of pain.
- Do two sets of each stretch.
- Be sure to stretch both sides of the body, to prevent developing imbalances.
- Be careful for stretches that compromise the lower back and increase the risk of injury.
- Stretching should never be a competition, it should be relaxed. Remember to breathe slow and controlled.
The bottom line is that until muscles are warmed up, static stretching can do more harm than good.