Static vs. Dynamic Flexibility
Taylor Tollison explains the benefits of static and dynamic stretching and which should be used in your training programme
The two main goals of a sports performance program are to prevent injury and increase performance. As athletes we will perform anything from plyometrics to sprinting to increase our performance. One question that has been debated for some time is whether the type of stretching we chose to perform at the start of our training session will have an affect on our performance and injury levels.
Many trainers advocate the use of static stretching prior to exercise. Static stretching has been used throughout the years for two main reasons: injury prevention and performance enhancement. Static stretching involves gradually easing into the stretch position and holding the position. The amount of time a static stretch is held may be anything from 6 seconds to 2 minutes. Often in static stretching you are advised to move further into the stretch position as the stretch sensation subsides.
Does static stretching prior to activity achieve the goals of injury prevention and performance enhancement?
Research has shown that static stretching can be detrimental to performance and does not necessarily lead to decreases in injury. The following are a few studies conducted on the topic of static stretching.
Which approach makes sense?
In soccer it is vitally important to have explosive muscles that allow a player to jump higher for the winning header or to explode past an opponent to get to the ball quicker. Almost every movement in soccer is preceded by an eccentric movement. For example, when you run you bend your legs first then explode forward, in jumping you must bend your legs, and finally cutting in soccer requires a lot of eccentric power. Would it not make sense to have optimal power, coordination and eccentric strength to succeed in soccer? If we should not static stretch then how can we stretch to optimize performance on the field? The answer is dynamic stretching.
Many of the best strength coaches support the use of dynamic stretching. Dynamic stretching consists of functional based exercises which use sport specific movements to prepare the body for movement. "Dynamic stretching, according to Kurz, "involves moving parts of your body and gradually increasing reach, speed of movement, or both."
Do not confuse dynamic stretching with ballistic stretching
Dynamic stretching consists of controlled leg and arm swings that take you (gently!) to the limits of your range of motion. Ballistic stretches involve trying to force a part of the body beyond its range of motion. In dynamic stretches, there are no bounces or "jerky" movements. Several professional coaches, authors and studies have supported or shown the effectiveness of dynamic stretching. Below are a few examples of support for dynamic stretching:
As coaches, trainers and parents we all want our athletes to lower their incidence of injury and increase our performance. Dynamic flexibility has been used successfully by trainers and coaches to increase flexibility and possibly lower the incidence of injury. It is the job of the coach or trainer to pick the method they feel is best suited for the sport and athletes. The above evidence supports the fact that static stretching prior to activity is not the best solution.
Static stretching does not necessarily lead to a decrease in injury and may decrease performance. If one purpose of the warm-up is to warm-up the body, would not static stretching actually cool the body down? If static stretching is not the solution to a pre-game warm-up what is?
Current research work detailed in Medicine & Science in Sport and Exercise 33(3), pp354-358 and Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, vol 15 (1): 98-101 suggests that the use of dynamic stretches - slow controlled movements through the full range of motion - are the most appropriate exercises for warming up. By contrast, static stretches are more appropriate for the cool down at the end of the session.
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About the Author
Taylor Tollison has a degree in exercise and sport science and is a soccer coach and coaches youth teams in Utah, USA.
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