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Stretching Options: Static, Ballistic, Dynamic

May 5, 2003 03:00 PM

by Jim Brown

Perform a stretch to its farthest point and hold for 30 seconds or for three ten-second periods. This is static stretching. It is safe — easy to learn, easy to execute, and a proven means of increasing flexibility. It is also a type stretching that should play a limited role in your exercise program.

"Recent research," says Todd Ellenbecker, a physical therapist in Phoenix, "has identified temporary decreases in skeletal muscle performance after static stretching. This includes decreases in muscular strength and power. Applying this research to elite athletes has led sports scientists and medical professionals to now recommend static stretching before vigorous training or competition at least 30-60 minutes before that activity starts (instead of immediately before)." Ellenbecker's comments appeared in High Performance Coaching.

But if static stretching is what you are supposed to do 30-60 minutes before practice or a match, what should you do immediately before it starts? Michael Alter, M.S., author of Sport Stretch, and Ellenbecker recommend dynamic stretching. Says Alter, "Dynamic stretching develops optimum flexibility, which is essential for all sports. Flexibility training must be velocity-specific to condition and train the velocity-specific stretch receptors."

Ellenbecker suggests that, in addition to dynamic stretching, the tennis player jog in place or ride a stationary bicycle immediately before the activity. But neither seems to be consistent with the sport-specific recommendations.

Dynamic vs Ballistic Stretching
There is a difference between dynamic stretching and ballistic stretching. Ballistic involves bobbing, bouncing, and rebounding types of movement. It is very controversial because it can cause injury and soreness. It also fails to provide adequate time for the tissues to adapt to the stretch and it increases muscle tension, making it hard to stretch connective tissues. Although there are ways to gradually work up to safe ballistic stretches, they are generally not a good idea.

Dynamic stretching, on the other hand, does not end with bouncing or jerky movements. Instead, the idea is to execute a controlled, moving stretch.

Should static stretching be a part of your exercise routine? “Yes,” says Ellenbecker. "Static stretching is most commonly recommended after the activity when the body is very warm and maximal elongation via stretching can occur. Static stretching after a workout is also thought to speed recovery, decrease soreness, and extend muscle length. The timing of static stretching has changed but the relative importance of effectiveness has not. Static stretching is also still recommended to prevent flexibility deficits in problem areas."

Ellenbecker says static stretching 30-60 minutes among recreational athletes an hour or so before going out to play might be beneficial in preventing injuries. There is no hard evidence to support this claim.

Tom Jurz, another stretching advocate, advises athletes to use dynamic stretches before an activity and static stretches during the cool-down period.

Sequence of Activities
Ellenbecker recommends the following sequence of activities prior to, during, and after a game, event, or training session for tournament level tennis players and other high-performance athletes:

  • Active warm-up for 3-5 minutes immediately before the activity
  • Dynamic, sport-specific stretches, including traditional warm-up activities
  • Match, event, or training
  • Static stretches

Here is our version of this sequence for serious exercisers and recreational players.

  • Static stretches (30-60 minutes before an activity)
  • Active warm-up for 3-5 minutes immediately before the activity
  • Dynamic, sport-specific stretches, including traditional warm-up activities
  • Match, event, or training
  • Static stretches

ã 2003 HMS Publishing, Inc.

Jim Brown will be contributing new content to this site on a monthly basis. If you have a question for Dr. Brown please feel free to email him at sportsmed@mindspring.com.




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