Is Static Stretching Back in Style?
By now we have heard that static stretching is the devil. Plenty of research has shown that static stretches alone don’t provide a proper warmup, and when done before your workout, they can even inhibit performance. But an upcoming study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research has shown that static stretching, when done for short periods between exercises, doesn’t inhibit performance.
Researchers asked fifteen men to perform bench press at 80% of 1RM until failure. The men repeated this for four total sets with two minutes rest between sets. Some of the men spent the two minutes of rest sitting quietly and discussing the latest episode of Bridezillas. And some of the men spent the two minutes of rest performing deep stretches on their pecs and triceps. A few days later everyone returned to the lab and did the same protocol, but the rest group and stretching group switched. In this way, all fifteen men experienced both the resting and the stretching protocol on different days.
When the results were tallied, researchers found that the stretching protocol and the rest protocol had produced about the same results. Both protocols produced a little more than twenty total reps over the four sets. Everyone expected the static stretching group to tank and the rest group to reign supreme, but it didn’t happen.
This is in direct conflict with several other studies that have shown static stretching reduces performance. However, most other studies used longer duration stretches while this study used stretches of only thirty seconds. Controlling the intensity of a stretch is also inherently difficult. How intensely were the athletes stretching in this study compared to other studies? I’m sure each athlete and researcher has a different idea of how painful a normal stretch should be. All of these factors can muddy the waters.
Interestingly, some bodybuilders have used static stretching as a way to increase their size through muscle hypertrophy. The Doggcrapp system created by Dante Trudel uses “extreme stretching” to induce this growth. The idea is to perform a deep and painful stretch on the affected muscle group for sixty to ninety seconds after you finish an exercise. Supposedly, this makes the muscle grow larger by stretching and enlarging its tissues. But be warned, absolutely no real science exists to support this claim. But sometimes bro-science can be accurate - you’ll have to be the judge.
So are we ready to repair our relationship with static stretching? Can we bring it back into our lives with more than an awkward every-other-weekend visitation strategy? Probably not. The overwhelming majority of evidence points to static stretching decreasing performance. But for special cases like hypertrophy, static stretching may have uses we haven’t yet explored.
1. Alex Riberio, et al. Static Stretching and Performance in Multiple-Sets in the Bench Press Exercise. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research (forthcoming). POST ACCEPTANCE, 25 September 2013. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000257.
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