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It’s no stretch

International study examines best stretching methods

Research |

By Jeff Green

An international study led by a Memorial researcher takes a closer look at the best ways to stretch before you exercise or play sports. As it turns out, most of us have been probably doing it wrong all along, particularly when it comes to static stretching.

Dr. David Behm, University Research Professor in the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation, co-authored the study with colleagues from Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. The results have caught not only the attention of research colleagues around the world, but also mainstream media outlets ranging from Cosmopolitan to Men’s Journal.

Consider cost-benefit analysis

“Our review of over 150 static stretching studies reveals that prolonged static stretching leads to impairments,” Dr. Behm explained.

The team’s findings were first published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism earlier this year.

“Include dynamic stretching to excite the system.” –Dr. David Behm

Dr. Behm says people need to think about stretching the same way they think about their finances: consider a cost-benefit analysis before you stretch.

“If you just static stretch for a prolonged period—more than 60 seconds per muscle group—without a full warmup, then you can expect, on average, 5 to 7.5 per cent deficits,” he said.

“But you can also expect a decrease in the incidence of muscle and tendon injuries. So, what is more important? If you hit your tennis serve at 100 kilometres per hour, prolonged static stretching might slow it down to 95 kilometres per hour. How important is that decrease compared to a decreased chance of getting injured? A five per cent decrease for Milos Raonic the Canadian tennis professional would mean a big deal, but for the average recreational tennis player it means almost nothing.”

Clarifying confusion

Dr. Behm’s best advice?

Stretch each major muscle group for about a minute.

“Include dynamic stretching to excite the system,” he said. “Static stretching tends to depress the neuromuscular system, which helps with relaxing the muscle to get a better range of motion but is not good for powerful explosive movements.

“You need to add dynamic stretching to excite those muscle stretch reflexes,” added Dr. Behm, whose research has also been featured in the New York Times and the Globe and Mail.

“Static stretching is still an important activity to prevent injuries and improve range of motion with the non-professional or non-elite athletes of the world.” –Dr. David Behm

Dr. Behm says his most recent research is important as it clarifies any confusion about static stretching.

“Many people have read these articles with unrealistic stretching durations and no warmup that feature elite athletes and think the results apply to them,” he said.

“Static stretching is still an important activity to prevent injuries and improve range of motion with the non-professional or non-elite athletes of the world.”

This story was also published in the July 18 edition of The Telegram as part of a regular summer series on research at Memorial University.

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