How to Stretch Before Your Workout: Use Science AND Common Sense
Static stretching is the whipping boy of exercise science these days. While we once thought it was a requirement for warming up, now study after study shows that static stretching prior to your workout reduces performance. But despite this consensus about adults, much less research has been performed on children.
An upcoming study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research asks, “Does static stretching suck as badly for children as it does for adults?” The study examined 47 boys and girls, all about fifteen years old. The participants performed several different warmup protocols and were then given a variety of physical tests. So what was the result? Static stretching decreased performance in both the sprint and vertical jump. However, it did give the best results for flexibility.
This adds to the growing body of evidence that static stretching is not an effective warmup strategy. According to recent studies, dynamic warmups usually give much better results. However, personally I think static stretching should have a limited place in your warmup. Some exercises may require a bit of stretching for you to simply perform the movement. Snatches and cleans are an excellent example. Executing some mobility techniques for the shoulders and hips may be necessary for you to achieve the range of motion necessary for a successful lift.
For example, stretching and performing self-myofascial release on my triceps is a ritual before every training session that involves a clean. Does this reduce the power of my triceps? Probably. But it allows me to receive cleans on my shoulders with high elbows, and to get my elbows around the bar quickly. I think the trade off is worth it.
Similarly, I sometimes sit in an overhead squat with a light load prior to snatching. Does this reduce the power of my hips and legs? Maybe. But without opening my hips I won’t get under a heavy snatch and get the chance to stand it up, so again, I think the trade is worth it.
But for low speed movements like pressing and deadlifting, static stretching is definitely a buzz kill. Use it to improve your flexibility, but avoid it prior to your workout.
1. Paradisis, Giorgos, et. al. Effects of Static and Dynamic Stretching on Sprint and Jump Performance in Boys and Girls. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (forthcoming). POST ACCEPTANCE, 15 April 2013. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e318295d2fb
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.