So you want to get out and do something. Great! How will you start? If it’s something you’ll be doing with your arms, will you shake them out? Cross one arm over the other shoulder and hold it there for 10 seconds? Swing them in large circles to get ready for your activity? Or what about an activity using your legs, like running — will you jog on the spot? Jump up and down? Lunge to the side and stretch out your inner thigh? More importantly, SHOULD you be doing this at all?
I’ve received a few requests to discuss the difference between static stretching and dynamic stretching — so those special individuals out there (you know who you are!), I hope this helps.
What should you be doing?
The type of stretching most commonly used (static stretching) involves moving a muscle or joint into a stretch position, and holding it there for a period of time. Usually, the goal here is to increase range of motion of the muscle/joint, hoping that this will either stave off injury (more room for error) or improve our performance (mimicking sport specific positions).
Others use a variety of stretching that makes most of us pause and wonder, what the heck are they doing? Arms swinging overhead, legs kicking forward and back — these people are usually performing dynamic stretching. This type of preparation for activity requires controlled movement through your active range of motion (the movement your can do on your own). Despite the very different approach, the goals for this type of warm up are the same — decrease potential for injury, improve performance.
I’m getting ready for activity: Which one is better?
If you are preparing for activity, I typically recommend a dynamic warm up approach — and it really doesn’t matter what your activity is: hockey, soccer, golf, football, tennis, skiing, skating, running, etc. A dynamic warm up is the way to go.
There are two reasons for this: 1> a dynamic warm up could benefit your performance, and 2> static stretching could impair your performance.
Cons of Static Stretching pre-activity
> In some cases, static stretching can actually make your performance worse! In a comparison study of dynamic, static, or no warm up before a throwing a medicine ball, the no warm up group actually outperformed the static warm up for distance thrown.
> Another study looked at the actual muscle force that can be generated after static stretching, finding peak torque, mean power, and electrical response of the muscle all decreased by a significant degree following static stretching. Power generation is the foundation of muscle activity, and without the ability to produce muscular power, movement (and performance) will consistently be impaired.
> Running, probably the most common activity people static stretch to prepare for, has also been studied. After static stretching of the hamstrings, quadriceps, and calf muscles, significant decreases were seen in acceleration and maximum sprint velocity time (time at top speed), and total sprint time increased. This is a negative all around for static stretching and sprint performance.
Pros for Dynamic Warm ups pre-activity
> In the same comparison study mentioned above, the dynamic warm up group outperformed the other groups by a significant margin.
> Other studies looking at vertical jump height (a commonly used metric for athletic performance) showed that dynamic warm ups can increase both total height and velocity significantly as compared to a control group (no warm up).
> In contrast to the decrease in performance seen with static stretching, dynamic stretching almost never shows a decrease in performance outcomes — results are either no change are improved results.
So static is out — dynamic is in. Just what does that mean for my warm-up?
Dynamic warm ups don’t need to be difficult, and they don’t have to be wild or crazy either. Dynamic literally means “constant activity”, so instead of stretching and holding a position, constant, controlled-motion through a stretch is the goal with dynamic stretching. For example, instead of standing, pulling your ankle with your hand, and holding to stretch the quadriceps, do it while walking. Take a step, bring your ankle back as far as your can on its own, grab it with your hand and give a small added stretch, let go, and take another step to repeat with the other leg — and repeat. This is a “walking butt kick”, but other examples of dynamic stretches include walking knee lift, walking leg cradle, straight leg march, forward lunge with opposite arm reach, high knee run, etc.
What have I missed?
This really only addresses performance-related outcomes of dynamic or static stretching. Other research has been conducted on injury prevention, specific varieties of dynamic warm-ups, and some of the particulars about static stretching that might make it less negatively-impacting.
And while we might address this in a future posting, it’s important to remind that static stretching remains beneficial in some capacities — especially as it relates to increasing range of motion over long periods of time. Just not immediately before activity!
> Static stretching immediately before performance could be a detriment to your actual outcomes
> Dynamic stretching immediately before activity may improve your performance outcomes! At the very least, it doesn’t appear to worsen performance.
> Different goals warrant different studies — improving long-term range of motion and decreasing probability of injury have different supporting research. So be careful! Static vs Dynamic stretching would be a very different conversation when not discussing performance.
I’m happy to discuss this topic in more detail, so if you have questions about how to, what to, or when to involve static or dynamic stretching (or any other questions!), feel free to contact me by email (firstname.lastname@example.org), in-office (Endorphins Health and Wellness), or by phone (905-634-6000). Or just leave a comment below!
- Behm DG, Chaouachi A. A review of the acute effects of static and dynamic stretching on performance. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2011;111(11):2633–51.
- Marek SM, Cramer JT, Fincher a L, Massey LL, Dangelmaier SM, Purkayastha S, et al. Acute Effects of Static and Proprioceptive Muscle Strength and Power Output. J Athl Train. 2005;40(2):94–103.
- McMillian DJ, Moore JH, Hatler BS, Taylor DC. Dynamic vs. static-stretching warm up: the effect on power and agility performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2006;20(3):492–9.
- Ryan ED, Everett KL, Smith DB, Pollner C, Thompson BJ, Sobolewski EJ, et al. Acute effects of different volumes of dynamic stretching on vertical jump performance, flexibility and muscular endurance. Clin Physiol Funct Imaging. 2014;34:485–92.
- Sayers AL, Farley RS, Fuller DK, Jubenville CB, Caputo JL. The effect of static stretching on phases of sprint performance in elite soccer players. J Strength Cond Res. 2008;22(5):1416–21.