Can Stretching Really Be Bad?

by Tim McCullough, PT, ATC

Over the years stretching has been credited for all kinds of successes in high level and weekend athletes. We assume there must be a lot of medical evidence behind the effectiveness of stretching. Right? Well there are a few isolated studies to show that it can help prevent injuries. On the other hand some studies indicate pre-activity stretching has been shown to decrease power, reaction time, impair balance and increase likelihood of some injuries. McHugh and Cosgrave in their article ‘To stretch or not to stretch: the role of stretching in injury prevention and performance’, published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, October 2009, gave the following recommendations: “(1) target pre-participation stretching to muscle groups known to be at risk for a particular sport, e.g. adductor and hip flexor strains in ice-hockey, and hamstring strains in soccer, etc.; (2) apply at least four to five 60 second stretches to pain tolerance to the target muscle groups and perform bilaterally, in order to be confident of decreasing passive resistance to stretch; (3) to avoid any lingering stretch-induced strength loss, perform some dynamic pre participation drills before actual performance, e.g. sub-maximal ball kicking and dribbling drills in soccer, skating drills in ice hockey, etc.”

At a symposium at the National Athletic Trainers Association annual meeting, stretching before athletic activity was discussed. The prevailing medical opinion is that for sports like dance, gymnastics and track, where extreme motions are needed, stretching is still highly valued. In most sports it is recognized that a dynamic warm up of the muscles and motions used in that sport does the best job of preventing injury. Stretching to address an individual’s specific flexibility deficit is best done after activity.

What is a dynamic warm up?  It is active movements that mimic those of your sport done at gradually higher speeds and ranges of motion. For example, for soccer you would perform agility drills with lateral changes in direction increasing in speed, kicking gently then harder, and running or dribbling at increasing speeds. At the end of the warm-up all the motions and muscles you would have used in a game would have been addressed at an increased speed and in increased ranges of motion.

In fact, it is recognized in youth sports, where a child’s skill level is just developing, that we emphasize the skill acquisition first and warm up second. This would mean in the soccer example that doing a dribbling skill drill then increase the speed of the drill gradually, would serve as a warm up. You may do a passing drill, first stationary with short passes, then increasing the length of the kick and speed of the movement before and after the pass. In summary a gradual warm up of sport specific activities can help prevent injury without taking away from time for skill acquisition.

Below are some interesting dynamic warm ups for baseball and soccer, you can find them by plugging into Google:

You Tube soccer specific dynamic warm up yelkaim1

You Tube dynamic dribbling warm up

You Tube first touch skill warm up for U16

YouTubeWakeForestbaseball pre game dynamic stretch program