by Anisha Joshi B.Ost.Med ND DO

Two new studies have been published recently that have set the sports and exercise worlds talking, casting doubt into whether the way we have been warming up for all these years, is not only a waste of time but actually counter-productive.

The studies found that static stretching in top athletes:

-Reduces strength in muscles by 5.5% with a greater impact if the single stretch is held for 90 seconds or more (for less than 45 seconds the impact is minimal)

-Reduces power in muscles by approximately 2%

-Reduces explosive power by a maximum of 2.8%

With these results in mind you could therefore say that static stretching of 45 seconds or more would actually disadvantage top athletes or for those competing in strength or explosive power sports. This study however doesn’t specify what period of time following the stretch that this effect lasts.

Looking at the percentage decrease in strength, power and explosive power, for the professional or top athlete, where every ounce of force or mille-second of speed is essential, these quantities are significant. For most of us however this is not the case. Also mentioned in the study is the duration of the stretch. For the majority of people a warm up stretch lasts for approximately 10 seconds, well under the 45 second limit.

Whilst playing sports most of us use our bodies more dynamically then we do with other activities in our lives. Typing at a desk has our arms in front of us. To suddenly play tennis without opening up our shoulders means that the muscles which have become accustomed to a shortened position, are suddenly stretched without warning. A warm up stretch beforehand, makes the motion less of a shock and the muscles more able to handle the increased range required. If not, sprains and strains happen more easily.

As an osteopath I have seen first hand how stretching can make a huge impact on the body. Our bodies were not created to sit in cars or at desks. They were built to survive and hunt and therefore injuries and arthritis have become more prevalent in the last 30 years.

An hour of Yoga a week is fantastic for muscles and the mind. For individuals with specific areas of weakness, we can create a stretching plan to conduct every day. These stretches are only 2 minutes out of your day and can change how your body works. I believe for those who take part in sports and activities, a warm up is essential and should be a combination of static and dynamic stretches and other movements designed to get the blood pumping and the heart beating a little faster.