Following on from Andrew’s post “Is Stretching For Fools?” we can conclude that stretching is near ineffective when used as a spray and pray tool to target chronic tightness but rather:
- Determining certain movements and postures which lead to suboptimal loading (increase tightening)
- Correcting deficient movements and postures using different forms of analysis
Are some of the most effective ways of targeting continuing tightness. But as he outlined, restoring muscle and joints to their normal length and mobility is another process in itself. One method, and the most commonly seen is the use of static stretching to achieve this. Static stretching can be defined as bringing the muscle to an elongated position and sustaining that point for a length of time.
As seen from that description. it is often quite vague, in terms of the parameters for static stretching, most guys and gals I see on the soccer pitch stretch until they feel it’s “loose”. But how long is long enough and how intense or firm should the hold be; to allow for substantial change in the properties of the muscles and tendons, and is there really a “gold standard”.
What we do know is that stretching pre activity can lead to an improvement in power, strength and endurance whilst also increasing the extensibility of muscles and tendons which can lead to an improvement in performance and aid in injury prevention.
An article by Bandy and Irion looked at the effects of hamstring flexibility with static stretching when performed with holds of 15s, 30s and 60s. They concluded that stretches held for 30s and 60s stretches were much more effective than stretches held for 15s or no stretching at all. However there was no difference in hamstring flexibility whether the stretch was help for 30 or 60 seconds. Therefore 30s is an adequate amount of time to hold a stretch to allow for sufficient change in muscle properties when compared to 15s or no stretching at all.
Another study by Behm and Kibele assessed the intensity of stretches using “point of discomfort (POD)” at 50%, 75% and 100% POD, and their effect on jump performance. They concluded that stretching intensities greater than 50% POD prior to maximal jump attempts dampened performance by 3-6%. However even such a minor reduction in maximal performance can mean the difference of winning and losing especially for an athlete.
So what is ideal:
- Static stretches should be held for at least 30s, however durations longer than 30s have not shown to be more effective.
- The intensity of stretches should ideally elicit minimal to no discomfort in order to prevent adverse changes to performance
- Stretches which elicit >50% discomfort prior to maximal effort activity can reduce performance by up to 6%
By William Chin
- Handy WD, lrion JM (1994) The effect of time on static stretch on the flexibility of the hamstring muscle. Phys Ther. 74 :84 – 85
- Behm DG, Armin K (2007) Effects of differing intensities of static stretching on jump performance. European Journal of Applied Physiology