Static stretching is when a muscle is taken to an end range and held there for a period of time. It is what usually springs to most peoples mind when you mention stretching; think leaning forward and touching your toes for 30 seconds or sitting in a straddle and reaching forward for 30 seconds.
There is an abundance of research concluding static stretching before performance leads to a decrease in power output from the stretched muscle. This has been associated with neurological deficits with electromyography (electric readings from the muscle) decreasing post static stretching.
Research on static stretching and subsequent performance output commonly utilised a stretching duration of anywhere between 2 minutes to 15 minutes per muscle group, and asked participants to take the stretch to the point of discomfort.
So what happens if the static stretch was held for less time? And who may it benefit?
When considering the biomechanics of many common gym exercises such as the back squat or the split squat, both need significant ranges around multiple joints. If you are someone who’s flexibility is perhaps not the greatest, performing these exercises even after a thorough dynamic warm up, is unlikely to give you the sufficient range required to get into the bottom positions for each move.
Research has shown us that breaking the parallel mark in a back squat significantly increase the activation of the gluteals. So if you are someone that constantly squats above that parallel mark due to flexibility issues, you could be missing out on overloading a major muscle group.
So is static stretching before a workout an option to increase your range, in order to give you more out of your workout?
Research looking into shorter periods of static stretching seem to be producing interesting findings. Static stretching for up to one minute per muscle group seems to be able to be done without impairing subsequent performance.
This suggests that lower volumes of static stretching before a workout are able to be done without significantly compromising maximal force production. This is great news for those of us who need a little extra help to get down into those deep squat positions.
Studies seem to suggest also that a 4 minute break following static stretching is optimal to allow a “recovery” period following the stretching, which ensures the additional range is still maintained but no negative effects on performance are shown.
If you do want to add some static stretching into your gym warm up routine, follow this easy warm up plan:
5-10 minutes pulse raiser activity (skipping, running)
Muscle activations (glute bridges, plank holds)
Static stretching to increase range
Warm up lifts (squats, lunges etc on light bar)