For years we’ve been told to stretch before a game or workout. Touch your toes for 30 seconds, we were told, and you’ll be looser, stronger and more injury-proof.
In recent years however, several studies have shown that stretching is not all that it’s cracked up to be. Two new studies have provided additional evidence not to stretch.
The first study, published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, found that stretching prior to lifting weights resulted in subjects feeling weaker and wobblier than before the workout.
The second study, an extensive meta-analysis of more than 100 studies on static stretching, showed that stretching can actually decrease athletic performance. In this study, static stretching reduced strength in the stretched muscles by more than 5 percent, with the impact increasing in people who hold the stretch for 90 seconds or more. The researchers also found that muscle power decreased by 2 percent after stretching.
The implications of this information are sobering for athletes everywhere. The sprinter bursting from the starting blocks, a basketball player dunking over an opponent, a tennis player blasting out a first serve, all will be ill-served by stretching beforehand.
Why stretching negatively affects performance is not completely understood but the authors suggest that stretching does what it’s intended to do—loosen muscle fibers and their accompanying tendons. But in the process, it makes them less able to store energy, which means a decreased ability to spring into action.
The bottom line is that a warm-up should improve performance, not worsen it. It’s probably better to warm-up dynamically (bouncing stretches) and move the muscles you will use in the game, not statically (slow, held stretches).