Is it better to hold a stretch, or stretch while moving? From the 1960s to the late 1990s, static stretching—that is, stretching into a challenging position and holding it for about 10 to 30 seconds—was considered the gold standard for athletes and fitness enthusiasts. Then, the pros changed their minds and told us that was all wrong; static stretching could actually hurt us. Dynamic stretching was declared much safer: That’s where you incorporate motion into the stretch, such as an arm swing or torso twist. Most people no longer perform static stretching before they exercise or play their favorite sport.
However, a recently published study brings new recommendations to athletes—whether professional or weekend-warrior-level—as well as those who coach them. The study reviewed hundreds of other studies on the topic of stretching, and found that static stretching, when incorporated into a holistic warm-up routine, is more likely to reduce the risk of muscle-strain injuries. The study also highlighted the lack of data on the effects of the risks of using only dynamic stretching.
“It is important for fitness professionals and enthusiasts, coaches, rehabilitation professionals and other scientists to critically assess the findings of fitness studies,” says Dr. David Behm, a professor at the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation at Memorial University of Newfoundland and lead author of the study. “Many studies over the last 15 years did not include a full warm-up, something that most athletes do regularly. Many studies also tested stretches that were held much longer than what is typically done,” continued Dr. Behm. The bottom line, according to Dr. Behm, “Before incorporating new findings into your fitness activities, think about how the study applies to your situation and activities.”
According to the study, an ideal warm-up routine includes an initial aerobic component, like a light jog, static and dynamic stretching, and sport-specific activities.
Kathryn Drury Wagner is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles. Her latest book is Hawaii’s Strangest, Ickiest, Wildest Book Ever!