Sunday, May 24, 2009

The when and why of static stretching

This article is now located here


  1. Great post. Is it correct to infer that Oly lifting is at odds with, say, running because one's strength-shorten cycle will either be on the shorter side (and favor the lifts) or the longer side (favoring long strides)? This would square with my intuition that there's more static streching necessary to support running.

  2. Hey Mike,

    I think you're kind of mixing things up.

    If you take a look at the running strides I referenced (specifically left leg in 3 & 4), and the bottom position in a snatch or clean and jerk you will see that the hammies are nearly the same length when both cycles occur.

    The only difference is that in Oly, the knee flexion is much greater which puts the lower leg next to the upper leg (which shortens the hammies), BUT the hip angle is more closed which puts the upper leg next to the hip/torso (which lengthens the hammies). So it ends up being relatively the same length.

    Thus, running and Oly favor relatively the same hamstring resting length. This is also why Oly lifters have relatively good transfer over to vertical leaps if they so desire, as well as fairly good explosive power in sprinting.

    I think the thing you're mixing up is the longer strides. If you want to make your stride bigger you need to exert more mass specific force against the ground in your step. This is ONLY accomplished by increasing your overall strength (through deadlifts for example), and ability to productively use that strength (through plyometrics).

    Trying to change your running or sprinting mechanics is a definite no no.

  3. Steve,

    It's also worth mentioning that, at least in my opinion, novice lifters should perform some static stretches BEFORE their workout (but after a light warm-up) if their flexibility is lacking (particularly in the hamstrings, glutes, and hip flexors for squats and deadlifts). Some guys say they don't want to stretch before lifting since it'll reduce their strength slightly. But, if you're only squatting 95lbs anyway, and that stretching lets you do it without rounding your back like you otherwise would, then maybe a small decrease in strength isn't such a bad thing if it saves your joints from a potential injury and helps instill good motion patterns (eg. contracting the low back/abs throughout the entire lift). I guess this would be akin to stretching prior to a gymnastics routine so that you could hit your positions, but for some reason, people don't generally think the same thing applies to lifting. The bottom of a squat is a position too.

    Take care,

  4. Patrick,

    Yes, if flexibility is a limiting factor in performing correct technique for various lifts it would be a good idea to static stretch before doing them to be able to obtain the position.

    I will edit the original post to include that. Thanks. :)

  5. Thanks for the response Steve. I read that the Oly lifts should help my basketball play, and your expanded rules are clear. To implement, I'll make sure to do more dynamic warm-up movements prior to b-ball and oly lifts.

    I was doing some hard static hammy stretching before b-ball because I know it becomes vulnerable when sprinting full-out on a fast break, later in the session after fatigue has set in. If I keep my strides short the whole session, then I can go twice as long before the warning signs appear. POSE helps with this, and my game is just about the same, but some attention is required.

    Would you recommend doing the static stretches after to reduce future vulnerability and bring back full running ROM, or just keep going with what works?

    What about on rest days: static, dynamic, neither, or both?

  6. I added some more clarification if you want to reread.

    1. Avoid the static hammy work before BBall. If they're too tight, then do the static work afterwards. As I said in the conclusion, if you need the static flexibility either for positions in sport or to hit technically correct position then it's fine. Otherwise, try to avoid it before dynamic exercise and do it afterwards.

    2. You're right with the POSE form there. That's probably pretty close to your correct running technique. Use that and don't try to unnecessarily lengthen your stride as you noticed it makes you fatigue faster, and you don't really run any faster either.

    3. If you need to improve your speed then increase your strength, and do some plyometrics.

    4. Rest days with static stretching are fine especially if you have tight hammies (most men do so yeah).

    Aim for being able to hit a butt to the ground squat that you can "bounce" out of if you keep your hammies tight. That is approximately the amount of hamstring flexibility you want.

    Similarly, if you've seen any of Kelly Starrett's stuff while lying supine if you keep one leg on the ground and bring the other leg it then you should be able to get it vertical or a bit past without any rise in the other leg.

    Aim for those two positions.

  7. Hi Steve,

    I really enjoy reading your comments on the CF boards. Question regarding hip flexor stretching, stretch-shorten, and sprinting: Would you happen to have any references on this? I'm eager to learn more as I feel the limiting factor in my sprinting ability is weak hip flexors.

  8. Jeffrey:

    Here's one... you can probably find others through googling.

    All in all you want strong hip flexors as they contribute to the knee drive, but you also want them static stretched so that they don't inhibit the hip extension. Seems like two contradictions, but it's not.

    A couple of years ago I saw a documentary on Asafa Powell (then 100m WR holder) and they measured his hip flexors to be something like 2.5x bigger (or was it stronger? probably much stronger actually) than normal. But point remains.

    Obviously, you want them extremely strong to help with the knee drive and associated momentum that comes with it, but you want them stretched and with enough flexibility that they don't inhibit the hip extension while you're running. So when you do some specific strength work on them always remember to static stretch before and afterwars.

    As far as making them stronger honestly there's nothing better than sprinting itself to improve your strength there... can't get anymore sport specific than that.