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The Importance of Stretching
December 08, 2015
If you have ever exercised or played sports you have
most likely been told about the beneﬁts of stretching.
However, you wouldn’t be alone if you didn’t know
exactly when or how to stretch to best prepare your
muscles for activity and prevent injuries. In a new study
published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and
Metabolism, David Behm and his co-authors reviewed
hundreds of studies to determine the best way to
stretch. Their ﬁndings? You’ve probably been doing it wrong all along.
By David Behm
We don’t really know when stretching was ﬁrst incorporated as a warm-up activity for humans.
Although predators such as cats, wolves, dogs and other animals have been observed
stretching upon waking or after being stationary for prolonged periods, we don’t know if
historically, humans systematically stretched prior to hunting, ﬁghting, or early competition like
We do know that systematic stretching was incorporated during the training of soldiers during
the world wars and scientiﬁc investigations of optimal resistance training routines were sought
out by Colonel DeLorme of the United States Armed Forces. Soon thereafter, Dr. Orban, a
Canadian researcher, in conjunction with the Royal Canadian Air Force developed the 5BX (5
Basic Exercises) program, which involved ballistic type activities. Ballistic exercises involve
stretching the muscle with rapid bouncing or explosive movements like bounding, jumping and
hopping activities. These ballistic activities for stretching and muscle endurance became quite
popular and were used not only for military personnel but also as training in physical education
classes and athletic pursuits.
However, after many years this type of dynamic stretching lost popularity when it was
cautioned that dynamic or ballistic activities that elicited reﬂex muscle contractions while
elongating the muscles and tendons could result in injury. This resulted in static stretching
becoming the dominant activity within a warm-up to increase range of motion (ROM). Static
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stretching was recommended since the slow movement into the stretch position and
maintenance of a static stretch over a prolonged period would minimize the reﬂex ﬁring of the
muscle. Static stretching has been demonstrated as an effective means to increase ROM
resulting in improved performance, a decrease in subsequent muscle soreness and a
reduction of the incidence of activity-related injuries.
Since the 1960s static stretching has been considered an essential component of a warm-up
but is it really the best way to stretch?
Recently, a substantial body of research has been published showing that sustained static
stretching could impair subsequent performance. This has resulted in a shift once again from
static stretching back to dynamic stretching, however there remains much confusion and
disagreement regarding the beneﬁts and risks of static vs. dynamic stretching within the stretch
So what is the best way to stretch?
Our new review paper shows that static stretching can be used in your warm-up to increase
ROM and help prevent injuries if the following procedures are followed:
1. At least 5 minutes of aerobic activity that increases your core temperature by 1-2
degrees Celsius (you should start to sweat lightly) before stretching.
2. Static stretching of each muscle should not exceed 60 seconds. For example, you can
stretch your hamstrings for 3 repetitions of 20 seconds or 4 repetitions of 15 seconds and
do the same for other muscle groups like the quadriceps and calves.
3. Follow static stretching with 5 to 15 minutes of dynamic stretching and sport or activity-
speciﬁc dynamic activities (e.g. tennis players move and hit a variety of different shots,
basketball and hockey players practice shots, passes and movement).
4. Do not use prolonged (>60 seconds per muscle group) static stretching within 5 minutes
of an activity without subsequent dynamic activity.
Integrating new research ﬁndings into your warm-up, workout or lifestyle
With so many new studies being published each year it is essential that you critically assess
the research before fully integrating the ﬁndings into your warm-up, workout or lifestyle. When
reading these studies pay attention to the duration of the stretching, whether there was a prior
aerobic warm-up or subsequent dynamic activities. Is the duration of stretching valid or
realistic or is it much longer than what the typical athlete would do? Did the researcher just
study stretching in isolation without dynamic activities before and after the stretching, as you
would ﬁnd in typical athletic situations? Was the subject group used in the experiment
applicable to you? Was the study conducted on humans or animals? If you are a 65-year-old, a
study that examined 18-year-old Olympic athletes is not going to apply to you. Consider if the
ﬁndings are of signiﬁcance to you personally. For example, if static stretching can reduce the
incidence of muscle strain injuries but causes a 5% reduction in performance, is that small
impairment important to you when you play your weekly golf game with your buddies?
Remember that not everything that is statistically signiﬁcant is personally signiﬁcant!
Watch Dr. Behm's TedX Talk: Stretching the way we think about athletes
David C. Evans
of Earth Sciences
Can. J. of Fisheries
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"Acute effects of muscle stretching on physical performance, range of motion, and injury
incidence in healthy active individuals: a systematic review" by David G. Behm, Anthony J.
Blazevich, Anthony D. Kay, and Malachy McHugh is now available for free in Applied
Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism.
David G. Behm PhD, School of Human Kinetics and Recreation, Memorial University of Newfoundland: Dr.
Behm was drafted in the Canadian Football League (CFL) by the Ottawa RoughRiders, worked as a hockey and football
coach at Bishop's University, managed an athletic club in Dartmouth, NS, and lectured at the University of Regina. Dr.
Behm completed his master's degree from McMaster University under the supervision of Dr. Digby Sale and completed
his doctorate in rehabilitation science from McGill University (advisor: Dr. Diane St-Pierre) while working full-time as a
physical education teacher at Dawson College. He has published over 180 articles in peer-reviewed scientific and
professional publications, provided invited presentations to audiences in North and South America, Europe and Australia
and has appeared on national and local television and radio.
Filed Under: NRC Research Press APNM journal Science News
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