Static Stretching

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Article from May 13, 2013 by Andrew Foehrkolb

Stretching is the second phase of the Corrective Exercise Continuum for the treatment of muscle imbalances and to decrease over activity of neuromyofasciall tissue. The most popular treatment modality for lengthening and preparing the tissue for other corrective exercise techniques is static stretching (SS). SS utilizes a combination of low force with long duration stimulation to produce autogenic inhibition of the targeted muscle tissue. It is widely accepted that its usage contributes to relaxation and concomitant elongation of muscle, Clark & Lucett, (2011). Of interest to the health and fitness community, SS is a flexibility technique used to increase the extensibility of muscle and the lengthening of connective tissue to increase the range of motion (ROM) at a joint. It is thought that SS decreases muscle spindle activity and motor neuron activity, Alter et al., (2004).

           Guissard et al., (2001) evaluated the neurological impact of SS. They concluded that SS of neuromyofascial tissue to the end ROM may decrease motor neuron excitability possibly by the inhibitory effects from the Golgi tendon organs. This decreased excitability via the interneuron is called the Renshall cell. or as recurrent inhibition. Recurrent inhibition acts as a feedback circuit to decrease the excitability of motor neurons. Overall it is theorized that this may decrease the responsiveness of the stretch reflex and increase tolerance to stretching allowing for increased ROM. McHugh and Cosgrave (2010) summarized that 20 to 30 seconds of SS may produce an acute viscoelastic relaxation response that produces increased ROM. They theorize that these increases to joint ROM may be a result of tolerance to SS and not a change in the viscoelastic properties of myofascial tissue.

         A large percentage of my clientele are endurance athletes that  have muscular imbalances resulting from their distance running participation. I am frequently asked by athletes if they should stretch before  and post running.  To further develop my position on SS, I researched the effects of SS and running performance.

            SS before and after running is a common practice among recreational and elite athletes as part of a warm-up routine. A study involving 10 male runners over a 10 day period was established to determine the effects of static stretching on running performance. Measurements were taken for sub-maximal performance, peak VO2 uptake, pulmonary gas exchange and neuromuscular performance to evaluate performance. Running economy was evaluated using 70% of max VO2 and lactic threshold measurements while the subjects were running on a treadmill. Running performance was evaluated during a 10 minute constant speed run before and after stretching. The control group participants sat quietly during the time allocated for the static stretching group. The results of this study indicated that static stretching did not have an influence on these runners and had no effect on oxygen consumed or total energy expended, Alison et al., (2008).

            Hayes &Walker (2007), in a similar study performed with 7 male runners, running economy and steady-state oxygen consumption was measured for the final 3 minutes of a 10 minute run. There was no change in running economy or steady state VO2 consumption. There was an increase in the range of movement within the study group however. McHugh & Cosgrave (2010)  performed a review study to examine the current literature on the effects of stretching on sports injuries and performance it was concluded that static stretching does not reduce the risk of overuse injuries (common in runners) but does reduce the risk of developing muscle strain injuries.

            I support the efficacy of SS and recommend  it’s usage to increase ROM, strength and performance. There is evidence to support these claims and additionally it may decrease injury risk in healthy individuals. I recommend to my clients the use of SS after inhibition techniques (SMR) have been performed on a targeted muscle group. I also recommend SS after a through warm up has been performed or post dynamic stretching and upon the completion of the work out. The literature supports acute pre exercise stretching performed in isolation decreases strength and performance. SS does not affect injury risk in healthy individuals, Clark & Lucett (2011).

Andrew Foehrkolb

           Allison, S. J., Bailey, D. M., & Folland, J. P. (2008). Prolonged static stretching does not influence  running   economy despite changes in neuromuscular function. Journal of Sports Sciences, 26(14), 1489-1495.

           Alter , M., (2004) Science of Flexibility, 3rd Ed., Champaign, IL: Human Kenetics.

           Clark, M., Lucett, S., (2011) NASM Essentials of Corrective Exercise Training, Lippencott Williams, Baltimore, MD

            Guissard, N., Duchateau, J., Hainaut, K., (2001) Mechanics of decreased motoneurone excitation during passive muscle stretching. Exp Brain Research 137(2): 163-9.             

Hayes, P. R., & Walker, A. (2007). Pre-exercise stretching and exercise economy. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research (Allen Press Publishing Services Inc.), 21(4), 1227-1232.

 McHugh, M. P., & Cosgrave, C. H. (2010). To stretch or not to stretch: the role of stretching in injury prevention  and performance. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 20(2), 169-181.

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