We've been told to avoid static stretching at all costs before a workout or sporting activity.
Researchers found that holding a stretch before a workout can significantly impair performance, likely because it can screw up the fiber structure and elastic properties in muscles that help produce power.
Other studies have found no issues with static stretching. But most of the research has assessed the effects of stretching a muscle more than 60 seconds—likely longer than you would ever stretch a muscle.
Yet most of us completely abandoned static stretching before workouts and sporting activities in favor of dynamic warm-ups. We went from one extreme to the other. In reality, the correct approach is probably somewhere in the middle.
A new study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research supports this conclusion.
Researchers in Greece assessed how static stretching affects 10- and 20-meter sprint speed and T-Test performance.
Subjects performed lower-body stretching routines of 10, 15, 20, 30, 40, 50 and 60 seconds targeting the major muscle groups prior to performing the three tests. Subjects were divided into moderate- and high-performance groups based on baseline scores in the tests.
The researchers found that static stretching for each measured duration did not negatively impact speed. Surprisingly, the 15- and 20-second stretch routines actually improved sprint performance by over 4 percent, and agility speed by over 3 percent in the moderate-performance group.
The high-performance group experienced no improvements. The researchers theorized that elite athletes' leg stiffness promotes maximum sprinting speed, and static stretching doesn't improve this quality. Also, there's a possibility that static stretching could reduce neuromuscular activity.
So what does this tell us?
Static stretching before a workout appears to have a minimal impact on performance as long as you don't hold the stretches for more than a minute, which you probably don't do anyway unless you're into certain forms of yoga. For people who are not highly trained, speed and agility performance might improve slightly after 15- to 20-second stretches.
With that said, don't go totally old school and only do static stretches before a workout. A dynamic warm-up still plays an important role in warming up your body, activating your muscles and improving range of motion.
But you don't have to fear static stretching like you once did. Instead, embrace static stretching by stretching the major muscles you will be using in your workout or sport for 15 to 20 seconds—anything under 60 seconds is fine—to make your warm-up better than ever.