Everything you need to know as an athlete about increasing your performance and flexibility starts here.
“You should never static stretch before a game, only after.”
“Only stretch a warm muscle.”
“I only stretch the muscles that I feel are tight.”
There are a lot of myths and false statements about static stretching floating around. The terms only and never rarely apply in speaking about training, but they’re even less applicable when it comes to static stretching warm-ups and cool downs. In part 1 of the stretching series, I’ll lay out the what, when, where, why and how of static stretching, allowing you to increase performance and flexibility while decreasing your risk of injury.
What is static stretching?
Happy you asked! By definition, static stretching is the process of applying tension to a muscle to theoretically add length to it. In adding length, you increase the range of motion surrounding a joint, thus increasing your flexibility. Want an example? Most movements that you think of as “stretching” would be defined as static stretching (as opposed to dynamic stretching), but a universal example is bending over, touching your toes, and holding that position.
What are the benefits / problems with static stretching?
Increasing a joint’s range of motion helps you properly perform movements like a deep squat. Why? Because if your hip flexors are tight you simply won’t get the depth you need to actually squat well. By stretching those muscles you’ll increase your flexibility not only in the squat, but also in a whole host of athletic movements (jumping and sprinting speed to name a couple).
However, tightness isn’t always due to a shortened muscle. There are scenarios where tightness is more attributable to alignment and stretching can actually be dangerous. For instance, if the tightness in your hip flexors is accompanied by tightness in the quads and hamstrings, you typically will have a hip alignment described by Czech scientist Vladimir Janda as, Lower Crossed Syndrome. This basically is an anterior pelvic tilt that results from tightness and over activity in the above muscles, accompanied by weakness in your glutes and abs.
In this position, it feels like the hamstrings are tight and need to be stretched, when in fact stretching only lengthens and inhibits the muscle more, further aggravating the issue. Here it’s vital to have a little understanding of your body to know if in fact static stretching is the right choice.
Additionally, trying to add length to a muscle that has knots or adhesions basically exacerbates the problem, for stretching does nothing to remove the restriction. You actually end up weakening the tissue on either side of the restriction, making a muscle strain or tear even more probable. In these situations, try to precede static stretching with some sort of soft tissue work.
Where do I include stretching in my plan?
Typically I used to include static stretching at the end of my workouts, but in the past year I’ve been swayed to start static stretching prior to the workout. This was the direct result of listening to Mike Boyle speak on the subject. His basic argument is that a cold muscle is more prone to increasing in length because it goes through plastic deformation, while a stretched warm muscle simply returns to its resting length, sort of like a heated rubber band. So, to throw a cog in traditional theory, I’m saying stretch a little bit before the workout and then get into some dynamic stretching (covered in part 2) directly before your workout, game, or practice.
Why is static stretching important?
The term “injury prevention” is one of the most overused statements in training. Is there really anything that prevents injuries? However, I believe static stretching helps reduce injury risk by increasing muscle length, which in turn improves the range of motion at the surrounding joint. In short, more stretching means more flexibility which means less tightness and therefore fewer injuries. Got it?
So how do I stretch?
Very carefully! All kidding aside, a static stretch should be held to a point of discomfort but not pain. Typically, you can use a stretch band, a bench / stretching table, or just your own body weight to apply the pressure and help you position your body. There is a technical aspect to performing a stretch correctly. Below are some videos and explanations of some common static stretches to use in your program.
Starting today, commit yourself to start including static stretching in your program. By increasing your flexibility you’ll increase performance, while simultaneously decreasing your risk of injury.
And 1R, to ensure joint health, we at OneResult would recommend the following supplements as you commit fully to static stretching: