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The Bible of Static and Dynamic Stretching. Which is Better?

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Define and Debate!

Ok, lets settle this debate once and for all until new research can prove differently. First off, lets define static and dynamic stretching.

Static stretching is the slow hold stretches you used to do in gym class. Remember when you used to stand, cross your legs and reach down to stretch your hamstrings? That is an example of a static stretch (and a poor way to stretch the hamstrings I must add). Static stretches are used to deform tissue and change the actual length of that particular tissue. We can get true length changes in muscle when we static stretch.

Dynamic stretching is a form of active warm up. In muscular dynamic stretching you are taking a muscle through it’s available range of motion, and not beyond it’s current length/range of motion. An example of this would be to swing your leg out forward in front of you (to dynamically stretch the hamstring), and then behind you while letting your knee bend (to dynamically stretch the quadriceps). Please reference this video below for this exact movement:

The key difference between static stretching and dynamic stretching is what happens to the muscle. In static stretching the muscle gets longer, with dynamic, it does not.

Muscle stretching to reduce injury: Static vs. Dynamic?

Before we answer this, the first question we need to ask is: Does flat out warming up before sport reduce injury or not? The only way we will be able to answer this question is if we can find 2 large groups of athletes; make one group warm up before competition, and make the other not, and then determine difference in injury occurrence. This is likely impossible because most  athletes will not want to risk injury by agreeing not to warm up before competition. Think about that…would you??

Onto the static vs dynamic part. To date there is no conclusive evidence on which type of stretching is better to prevent injury during sports competition. Why? Well lets face it, everyone is different. We’ve all seen our friends who are maybe a little bit out of shape in one way or another…some warm up statically, some dynamically, some not at all and usually no one gets injured.

Main Point: There is no clear winner in injury prevention regarding warming up, or type of stretching.

Muscle stretching to enhance performance?

The answer to this question stems from rather complex neural mechanisms…made simple in the following explanation. Static stretching is a slow controlled movement. This type of stretching pre-competition actually teaches the body to move slow and controlled. We do not want to move slow in sport movements. However, we do want to move in a controlled fashion. Dynamic stretching on the other hand educates our body to move fast, and respond quickly…much how we want to move in sports. A motor unit is a nerve and the muscle fibers it innervates. Dynamic stretching excites these motor units, and heightens the awareness of the muscles to quickly respond to anything it may encounter. With any kind of sport movement there is some degree of quickness and power involved.

Main point: You should be warming up dynamically for this reason. You will feel so much better and more prepared to move when you do!

BUT WAIT!!  Do you want a longer muscle before your game/practice?  Most athletes and coaches would assume that you want your muscles to be longer going into your game or practices, and that is why so many coaches instruct their athletes to warm up statically.  However as we have just learned, static stretching is good at increasing muscle length, but not at preparing the body to move in sport.

When you should use static stretching.

If you’re still recovering from an injury where you have lost range of motion or flexibility, a portion of your pre-competition warm up should be set aside for static stretching. This will allow your muscle to increase it’s length (it may only be temporarily) and then you can stretch dynamically on top of that to prepare your newly lengthened muscle to react to sport movements.

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  • 2 comments… add one
    Ian Trott

    Honest to goodness good sense from Dr. Chris, someone who knows and understands the physiology of the human anatomy. It all makes perfect sense and seems very logical. I guess time will tell! Just reading a few snippets on this site has already made me feel I’ve made the right choice for myself and my athlete grandkids.
    Thanks Dr. Chris!
    Ian T.

    • 2 comments… add one
      Dr. McKenzie

      Thanks, Ian. I strive to do the right thing with my knowledge, and hope to make it logical and easy to understand for those who follow me.