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Stretching is still bad even if you follow it with more warm-up

March 9th, 2010
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I’m a little more than a year late in reporting on this paper, but I just stumbled across it while researching another story, and thought it was interesting. As I discussed in a recent post, there’s a
lot of evidence emerging these days that stretching has some acute negative effects. When I wrote about this topic in the Globe back in 2008, one of the researchers I spoke to basically said (and I paraphrase): “The studies all show that pre-game stretching makes you weaker and slower, but athletes don’t really care. So the best thing you can do is encourage them to stretch early in their warm-up, and then do some more dynamic activity afterwards to help ‘shake out’ the negative effects of stretching before game time.”

So the paper I just found, from the January 2009 issue of the European Journal of Applied Physiology, tackles this very question:

Recently, it has been suggested that the published research, testing after an acute bout of stretching, does not reflect current practice where individuals follow up a bout of stretching with further activity. Therefore, the aim of this study was to investigate the use of stretching followed by a secondary bout of movement.

Basically, the subjects did a five-minute warm-up on the treadmill; then did a vertical jump test; then either did nothing, static stretching, or dynamic exercises; then did another jump test; then they all did another set of warm-up exercises (i.e. high knees, skip-steps, side-stepping, cross-overs and zig-zag running); then did another series of jump tests after 10, 20 and 30 minutes.

The results: after the first stage, the static stretching group jumped lower, while the dynamic exercise group jumped higher. After the second part of the warm-up, the static stretchers still jumped significantly lower than both the dynamic group and the controls. So you can’t just “shake out” the negative effects of stretching (at least with this particular protocol): once you’ve done it, you’re stuck with the effects for an hour or two.

UPDATE (a few minutes later): Okay, as I dig more, I find more studies on this topic. For example, this November 2009 study, titled “Negative effect of static stretching restored when combined with a sport specific warm-up component,” which reaches the opposite conclusion. Clearly, this debate is far from settled.