The increase in sports science research in the last few decades has provided invaluable information for coaches. Most practitioners these day’s pride themselves on being evidence-based, meaning that their training methods are supported by research. One aspect of training methodology that has largely been influenced by research is the exclusion of static stretching during warm-up protocols. This is because numerous studies have been published showing that both static stretching and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching transiently reduce performance in strength and power activities like sprinting, jumping and rate of force development. Naturally, these results deter both coaches and athletes from wanting to perform static stretching in their warm-up routines. This was a substantial change in coaching trends as static stretching used to be one of the key elements to a warm-up.
As practitioners, it’s important for us to interpret research in appropriate context. This means that before we allow the results of research to influence our decision-making, we need to critically evaluate the methodology chosen. We must remember that not all scientists are practitioners or have experience in the applied setting. For example, a recent systematic review on static stretching and performance in the Journal of Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism raises some important concerns regarding the recent nixing of static stretching. The authors point out that the majority of research looking at the acute performance effects of static stretching typically involve only a 3-5 min post-stretching period before performance is evaluated. Under these conditions, strength and power indices are almost always impaired.
An experienced coach knows that the methodology described above is considerably different than how static stretching is typically applied in real-world warm-ups. Notably, athletes typically perform other dynamic movements following static stretching such as jogging, skipping, technical drills, etc. Furthermore, the transition time between warm-up and practice or competition is typically much longer than 5 minutes. Of the few studies that used a more realistic protocol with static stretching, they showed no negative effects on physical performance markers. Therefore, static stretching may not be as harmful to performance as some coaches think, if it is applied correctly in training practice.
Behm, D. G., Blazevich, A. J., Kay, A. D., & McHugh, M. (2015). Acute effects of muscle stretching on physical performance, range of motion, and injury incidence in healthy active individuals: a systematic review. Applied physiology, nutrition, and metabolism, 41(1), 1-11.