Have you ever been told “make sure you stretch before you workout?” Yes I am sure you have… As an athlete myself I have heard this many times.
Here is a great article from the New York Times responding to the research from The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research and The Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports.
“The numbers, especially for competitive athletes, are sobering. According to their calculations, static stretching reduces strength in the stretched muscles by almost 5.5 percent, with the impact increasing in people who hold individual stretches for 90 seconds or more. While the effect is reduced somewhat when people’s stretches last less than 45 seconds, stretched muscles are, in general, substantially less strong.”
Dr. Markovic also stated that the athlete performance “after warming up with stretching is likely to be worse than if they hadn’t warmed up at all.”
What This Means
Conversely, like many things there is another side. Some people need stretching (i.e body builders) because of their muscle bulk. If they do not stretch somewhat, before working out they may not be able to get into the proper position to execute an exercise (due to lack of tissue extensibility. So yes, that type of population needs to have some form of stretching included in their warm-up. The best way to achieve the right tissue extensibility and range of motion is to only hold the position for 30 seconds or less. Holding a stretch for between 20-30 seconds is the best way to accomplish this. If you hold a static stretch for more then 30 seconds, you may be reducing the muscles ability to contract with maximum force.
So, the take away from this article is that performing warm up stretches (>30 seconds) is not going to help you perform better. Instead, warming up dynamically, by moving the muscles that will be called upon in your workout (like jumping jacks, jump roping, high knees or leg kicks) will give you the benefit of temporarily lengthening the muscle to give you that tissue extensibility. Also, adding in short duration stretches to target the same muscle groups that you will be working that day is also beneficial. This will help prepare the muscles for additional exercise, which is more beneficial than stretching alone!