Static stretching - good or bad?

Condemning static stretching solely a bad method is a misconception stemming from inadequate understanding of the mechanism underlying static stretching. The key point is to recognise stretching reflex which tirelessly protects our body from sudden changes. In general, it is a very important reflex, but in terms of static stretching it can be seen as an obstacle that we need to learn to overcome.

Sensory receptors in muscle tissues, tendons and even in our skin are extremely sensitive to recognise even the smallest changes in our body position. In order to execute a successful static stretch, we must move so slowly that these receptors cannot detect it. From the mobility point of view, the most important sense organs are muscle spindles. Their job is to continuously patrol whether there are any changes going on in the length of our muscles. They communicate through the spinal cord to the brains how severe and fast the change is, thus enabling the brains to give proper commands to the muscles.

Whenever you sense pain while doing static stretches it tells that nociceptors have interpreted your stretch as a potential threat for the body. 

If the brains interpret any message from the nerve system as dangerous, the stretch reflex is triggered. This is the most important reason why so many people feel that static stretching does not work. When the stretch is done slowly enough, muscle spindles send considerably less signals. Consequently, alpha motoneurons send less contraction impulses to muscles. Virtually, this means that a static stretch has a very good chance to be successful.  Even if the above mentioned mechanism is the most important factor determining success of static stretching, it is not the whole truth.

Golgi tendon organ lies at the insertion of skeletal muscles and tendons and its function is to sense the amount of pressure in tendons caused by muscle contraction. Their role is highlighted when static stretch approaches individual extreme range of motion. Again, slow stretch activates Golgi tendon organ less than fast stretch, similarly to above-mentioned muscle spindles. Ruffini endings are located in the deep layers of skin and they inform brains about angel changes in joints. Pacinian corpuscles are also located in our skin. They react very easily to rapid pressure changes, but not so much when the pressure is steady. Whenever you sense pain while doing static stretches it tells that nociceptors have interpreted your stretch as a potential threat for the body. The moral of the story is in all these cases the same: do your static stretches so slowly and with light pressure that all these receptors stay calm.



Do your static stretches slowly and with light pressure.


It is obvious that long (passive) static stretches cause lengthening effect in muscle which temporarily diminishes the muscle's ability to produce explosive power and speed. This effect may last from seconds to minutes and even to a couple of hours, if the stretch has been a really thorough one. Anyhow, the effect is reasonably short and should not be interpreted as a negative factor for speed and power in general. In the long term, static stretching may actually influence positively to speed and power due to greater range of movement. Temporary effect should be taken into account in warm-ups of sessions targeting the development of speed or power. Static stretches do not really increase muscle temperature or blood circulation in muscles or elicit joint movements - all these facts further emphasise their poor usefulness in warm-ups.

Static stretching creates opportunities by letting range of motion grow, but active stretching methods determine how effectively the new range of motion will be realised in fast and powerful performances. 

Sometimes we see claims that static stretches could help reduce DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) when done immediately after training or even when done a day after the training. Typically, DOMS occurs after intensive strength training which has caused microscopic damages in muscle tissue. It is common sense that these damages/tears cannot be healed by stretching muscle. Instead, the healing process might be harmed, if intense static stretching is applied to a muscle recovering from the damage. A very light static stretch may be an option, particularly when done with thorough exhalation and purpose of relaxation via calming down a parasympathetic nervous system.



Static stretching calls for respect towards the alarm systems of the body.

Static stretching can improve flexibility rather than mobility. Sometimes we say that it  improves mobility reserve. Passive range of motion will grow while resisting tissues fight against the stretch less than before. Passive range of motion is a nice thing to have, BUT it does not tell much about your ability to move your body. For active motion, muscle coordination and joint angel specific power production is needed. Static stretching creates opportunities by letting range of motion grow, but active stretching methods determine how effectively the new range of motion will be realised in fast and powerful performances.

For your comfort, when the hard work of improving flexibility has been done, then the maintenance is apparently easier.

Static stretching can improve flexibility rather than mobility. Sometimes we say that it  improves mobility reserve. Passive range of motion will grow while resisting tissues fight against the stretch less than before. Passive range of motion is a nice thing to have, BUT it does not tell much about your ability to move your body. For active motion, muscle coordination and joint angel specific power production is needed. Static stretching creates opportunities by letting range of motion grow, but active stretching methods determine how effectively the new range of motion will be realised in fast and powerful performances.



Relaxing static stretches increase mobility reserve.

We see static stretches as vocabulary of mobility training. They are easy to learn and when they are combined in flowing motion they form the basics of dynamic training. How much static stretching should be done to gain the best results? According to our coaching experience, individual differences in this matter are huge. Some benefit greatly from only one weekly stretching session, while others demand three or even four sessions a week to see remarkable progress.

For your comfort, when the hard work of improving flexibility has been done, then the maintenance is apparently easier. Another common question is, how long should I stay in static stretch? The short answer is 30 seconds, but start counting only when you are relaxed and you feel the stretch happening.

Take home message: Static strecthing is useful.

Take home message2: It is important to learn to do your static stretches correctly.


Use the text as a reference as follows:
Mäkinen, J. STATIC STRETCHING - GOOD OR BAD?
Published Ocotber 7th 2021 in the blogs of Exercisemaster.
www.exercisemaster.fi

Static stretching - good or bad?
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