Once upon a time, I though that static stretching was essential for anyone who wanted to be healthy and fit. Now, though, I’m not so sure.
I’m not saying that static stretching is bad for you. Not at all. I don’t necessarily think it’s essential, either.
I want to explore it a little further in this post, though, and extrapolate on some of the pros and cons.
What is Static Stretching?
Before we get too deep into the pros and cons of static stretching, I first want to make sure we’re all on the same page about what static stretching is.
Simply put, static stretching involves holding a stretch in one position for extended periods of time. The opposite of static stretching would be dynamic stretching, which involves moving a joint through a full range of motion.
Static Stretching Pros
There are definitely benefits that come with making static stretching a regular part of your routine, including the following:
Good for Beginners
For folks who are brand new to exercising and working on improving their range of motion, this type of stretching can be easier to learn than dynamic stretching. It’s a good transition tool and can help ease people into more challenging, dynamic stretches.
Improved Range of Motion
Static stretching does help to improve one’s range of motion. There’s no doubt about it. If you’re looking to get more flexible, this type of stretching can definitely be helpful.
While it shouldn’t be the only type of stretching you do (dynamic stretching and mobility work matter, too), it will increase your range of motion if you do it regularly.
Prolonged stretches can also help to promote relaxation and get your body into a parasympathetic state. I talked in this post about a parasympathetic state also being known as the “rest and digest state.”
If you’re looking to wind down and get into this state after a workout or before bed, this type of stretching is a great option. Think about how relaxed you feel after a yoga class — that’s the result of static stretching.
Static Stretching Cons
Clearly, there are perks that come with static stretching. There are also some downsides, too, including the following:
Can Reduce Muscle Capacity
A lot of people think that static stretching before a workout will help to improve their performance. That’s not exactly true, though.
Some research shows that doing this type of stretching before your workout can actually reduce your muscle strength and power.
For example, the results of this study showed that this type of stretching before a workout led to a 5.5 percent reduction in muscle strength, a 2 percent decrease in muscle power, and a nearly 3 percent decrease in explosive muscular performance.
Can Increase Injury Risk
Contrary to popular belief, static stretching also might not reduce your injury risk. It could actually make things worse.
When you do this type of stretching prior to a workout, you increase your range of motion. You don’t gain control over that range of motion, though.
If you hold a stretch for a long time and get to a different level of flexibility than what you’ve reached in the past, you might think you’re set up for a great workout.
Since you don’t have control over that new level of flexibility, though, you might have a hard time controlling your muscles when you get into your workout.
Think back to your yoga class. You feel nice and loose after, but you probably don’t feel like you’re prepared to lift a bunch of heavy weights, right?
Static stretching also is not as functional as dynamic stretching.
When you focus on holding stretches for long periods of time before a workout, you’re not really doing movements that mimic what you’ll be doing in your actual training session. When you focus on dynamic stretching, you’re getting your body primed for the exercises in your workout.
There’s a more direct carryover from dynamic stretching to a workout (any type of workout) — the same is not true for static stretching.
The Right Way to Stretch
There are definitely pros and cons to static stretching.
If you don’t want to make it a regular part of your routine, you’re probably going to be fine (I do recommend still including mobility work, though).
If you do want to make it a regular part of your routine, though, here are some tips that will help you make sure you’re getting the most out of it and aren’t increasing your injury risk:
- Treat it as a cool-down, rather than a warm-up
- Aim for symmetry between your right and left sides
- Hold stretches for 30-60 seconds
- You should feel a stretching sensation, but you should not feel pain — if you feel pain, back off
- Be consistent
This last tips is especially important. As with anything when it comes to health and fitness, you won’t see results if you’re not consistent.