To stretch or not to stretch, that is the question.
For as long as I can remember, my warm ups for football, running or sport in general had always incorporated a component of static stretching. We were led to believe that by stretching before activity would prepare our muscles and help prevent injury.
However, there is now a pile of literature debunking this belief. There have been numerous reviews demonstrating that static stretching pre-exercise may in fact reduce muscle power, torque and subsequent performance.
Static stretching pre-exercise produces a dose response effect for implications of performance. In other words, the longer stretch time, the greater performance will be affected.
There are also a number of studies demonstrating that short duration static stretching, less than 45 seconds, is not subsequently detrimental to performance which we must also take into consideration.
So what can we do to be able to gain the range of motion we need before exercising without effecting performance? Replace your static stretching for dynamic stretches.
Dynamic stretching is classified as the controlled movement of a joint through its active range of motion. Dynamic stretching can provide gains in muscle and joint range of motion. With enhanced neuromuscular control and post activation potentiation, dynamic stretching can in fact enhance performance and also reverse the negative effects of static stretching.
Therefore, static stretching should primarily be used following activity, or in a separate session altogether for increasing joint range of motion.
What about stretching to aid recovery? The evidence from randomised studies suggests that muscle stretching, whether performed before, after, or before and after exercise, does not produce clinically important reductions in delayed-onset muscle soreness in healthy adults.
Evaluating the current evidence, be it a little cloudy, suggests that static stretching prior to exercise may negatively impact performance, and does not improve recovery. Reserve static stretching for post exercise or an entirely separate session for its accumulative effects on increasing joint range of motion, while substituting static for dynamic stretching during pre-activity warm up.