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Review sheds new light on static stretching advice

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Is stretching part of your warm-up routine? And if so, do you opt for dynamic stretching or the more traditional static stretching?

Researchers have looked at hundreds of studies with the aim of identifying the best way to stretch to improve range of motion and prevent injury during sports and exercise. Their findings, published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, contradict advice commonly given on static stretching over the last 15 years, says the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP).

As CSEP reports, for over 30 years, from the 1960s to the late 1990s, fitness professionals, enthusiasts and athletes were told that static stretching (stretching muscles while the body is at rest) was important for increasing flexibility, improving performance and reducing the risk of injury.

Subsequently, research suggested that static stretching could cause performance impairments and that it does not reduce injury risk, resulting in many people switching to dynamic stretching, where movements are performed through large ranges of motion usually at a fast speed.

But now, after reviewing hundreds of studies, researchers have found that static stretching — when incorporated into a full warm-up routine that includes an initial aerobic component, static and dynamic stretching and then active and dynamic sport-specific activities — should not result in significant performance impairments and may actually reduce muscle strain injury risk.

The review also highlighted the lack of scientific data regarding the effects of dynamic stretching on injury risk.

“It is important for fitness professionals and enthusiasts, coaches, rehabilitation professionals and other scientists to critically assess the findings of fitness studies,” said lead author Dr. David Behm from the Memorial University of Newfoundland.

“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,” he explained. “Before incorporating new findings into your fitness activities, think about how the study applies to your situation and activities.”