Advice about stretching has seesawed wildly in the last few decades, but a new study goes a long way toward putting the most misunderstood part of your workout in perspective.
But first, a history lesson: Beginning in the early 1960s, almost everybody, from elite athletes to grade-school gym classes, got lectured about the health benefits of static stretching—stretching muscles when the body is at rest. (Studies showed it was safer and more effective than the calisthenic bouncing style of toe-touching that ruled in the 1950s.) By the early 1990s, a number of studies, many done on high-level athletes, turned that advice on its head. Instead, experts insisted, dynamic stretching—movements performed through large ranges of motion, often at a fast speed—was the best way to get ready for a workout. Static stretching, they said, made muscles less effective.
Now new research from Memorial University of Newfoundland, analyzing hundreds of studies collected over the decades, contradicts those findings. David Behm, Ph.D., lead author of the study, says the fitness world has been on hating on static stretching for all the wrong reasons.
“Many of these studies looked at prolonged stretching, and would end up with impairments of about 5 percent,” he says. “For an athlete like sprinter Usain Bolt, that’s huge. But for the average person, it makes no difference if, let’s say, your tennis serve is 5 percent slower.”
He also found that in studies that included a fullwarm-up before stretching, there was noimpairment in exercise performance.