physical therapists we are frequently asked about stretching exercises.
Static stretching exercises are those stretches that you are told to
hold for so many seconds and do so many times a day. When you think of
stretching, it is usually this type of stretching that immediately
comes to mind.
To perform this type of stretching exercise one must elongate the muscles as tolerated and that position is then held for a particular length of time. The time a stretch is held is determined by your age, pre existing conditions, activity level, and any injuries. For more information on how long to hold a static stretch click here.
In most cases it is a safe way to elongate soft tissues for those just beginning an exercise program and sedentary individuals.
A good rule of thumb is, in order to maintain mobility you should take each joint through its full range of motion once a day. In the clinic we see the results of immobilization as patients are taken out of casts, and people try to become more active after a period of injury. Soft tissues will inherently shorten unless moved. That's the nature of viscoelastic substances. "If you don't use, you lose it".
I have had patients come to me
that have never stretched because their personal trainer told them it
would hurt their workout. A few studies that have been misinterpreted
are changing the way we work out. Static stretches are not necessarily
A player of any sport with tight hamstrings should undertake a stretching workout because these players are more prone to hamstring strains. This type of program should take place daily, at least three times a day. Studies show that for individuals under forty that 30 second holds are sufficient(2) (there is no benefit to holding longer than 30 seconds in this age group), younger individuals can get away with 15 second stretches.(3) People over 70 benefit from static stretches held 60 seconds more than 30 seconds. (4) Stretches should be painfree and not overly uncomfortable. If you experience pain during a stretch, see your physical therapist prior to starting a stretching program.
Stretching is only a small part of an appropriate pre-participation warm up. In some cases, too much static stretching can actually predispose an athlete to injury.
General consensus now is that pre-participation static stretching is
not beneficial for optimum performance. Your warm up is best to consist
of active exercises to increase circulation with sport specific
movements. This type of activity causes increased temperature in the
muscles used which improves elasticity and therefore flexibility.
Depending on your sport, specific dynamic or ballistic stretching may be more appropriate.
After a workout is the best time to perform static stretches. Muscles are warm, ligaments and joints are more elastic, but if you suffer from muscular imbalances or are interested in maintaining or increasing your flexibility, static stretches should be done daily.
have come to expect a lot from a few stretching exercises. Claims of
injury prevention and improved performance are unfounded, but that
doesn't mean static stretches don't have their place in a training or
fitness regimen. Pre-activity stretching commonly done by athletes
thinking they can help their performance and reduce injuries are coming
under scrutiny (5,6,7). There is literature that suggests there is a
reduction in strength and power following static stretches. (8,9) The
length of time that strength and power are affected and the mechanisms
causing these losses are still being investigated.
Static stretches were emphasized years ago amongst gymnasts, track and field participants, and skaters. In these particular sports one requires a great deal of flexibility to perform the tasks of the sport. In sports such as hockey (goalies excluded), rugby, or football, this extreme flexibility is not necessary. Every sport has a certain set of skills that requires a given flexibility. Exceeding this flexibility is no guarantee of injury prevention; however, if one doesn't have the adequate flexibility necessary to perform the sport, they are definitely prone to injury.
A study in 2000 looked at male army recruits to determine if static streches would reduce the risk of injuries.(10) It was determined that static stretching didn't result in a meaningful reduction in the rate of injury.
In this study the greatest predictor of injury was a poor aerobic
fitness level. It is theorized that no benefit results from static
stretches because of the following reasons:
1. Smith C: The warm-up procedure: To stretch or not to stretch. 1 Orthop Sports Phys Ther 1 9: 12-1 6, 1994
2. Bandy WD, Irion JM, Briggler M: The effect of time and frequency of static stretching on flexibility of the hamstring muscles. Phys Ther 1997;77(10):1090-1096
3. T. Ioannis, G. Christos, Z. Nikolaos, V. Aikaterini, V. Efstratios The Effect of Stretching Duration on the Flexibility of Lower Extremities in Junior Soccer Players.
Aristotle University of Thessaloniki Department of Physical Education and Sports Sciences Thessaloniki, Greece Physical Training Sept 2005.
4 Feland JB, Myrer JW, Schelthies SS, Fellingham GW, Measom GW. The effect of duration of stretching of the hamstring muscle group for increasing range of motion in people aged 65 years or older. Phys Ther 2001;81:1110-1117.
5. Gleim GW, McHugh MP. Flexibility and its effects on sports injury and performance. Sports Med 24: 289-299, 1997.
6 Ogura Y, Miyahara Y, Naito H, Katamoto S, Aoki J. Duration of static sstretching influences muscle force production in hamstring muscles. J Str Cond Res 21: 788-792,
7. Thacker SB, Gilchrist J, Stroup DF, Kimsey CD. The impact of stretching on sports injury risk: A systematic review of the literature. Med Sci Sports Exerc 36: 371-378,
8. Behm DG, Button DC, Butt JC. Factors affecting force loss with prolonged stretching. Can J Appl Physiol 26: 261-272, 2001.
9. Cramer JT, Beck TW, Housh TJ, Massey LL, Marek SM, Danglemeier S, Purkayastha S, Culbertson JY, Fitz KA, Egan AD. Acute effects of static sstretching on characteristics of the isokinetic angle-torque relationship, surface electromyography, and mechanomyography. J Sports Sci 25: 687-698, 2007.
10. Pope, R. P., Herbert, R. D., Kirwan, J. D., & Graham, B. J. (2000) A randomized trial of pre-exercise stretching for prevention of lower-limb injury. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 32, 271–277