Impact of Stretching on Resistance Training

There has been some conflicting research on the topic in regards to the effectiveness of stretching on improving training performance. However, if we dissect the research that has looked into this query, we will soon make sense of the information available. In this article, we will define the type of stretching, its impact on resistance performance, and the reasoning for this potential change in performance – let’s dig in!

What type of stretching?

In this investigation, we are curious about static stretching (aka, holding a challenging, but comfortable position for an extended period of time), as well as dynamic warm ups (aka, moving through a range of motion in a controlled manner)[4].

Does stretching impact Resistance Training performance?

Yes.

How so? Well, that comes down to the details. The controversy lies in the fact that several studies have shown stretching in a resistance training (weight training) protocol to be beneficial to strength [2][5]. However, on the other side, there are also studies that show stretching to have a negative effect on strength [1][6]. So, how do we make sense of this information?

The key is to look at the difference between these studies, and with a keen eye, we can see that while all studies explored stretching on performance, not all studies used the same modality to study stretching. In the case of the pro-stretching research, stretching was performed outside of the immediate training routine; and, in the case of the anti-stretching research, stretching was performed within the hour of training. This means that it is highly probable that the timing, and type, of stretching may have a significant impact on strength as static stretching performed before resistance training leads to a decrease in strength, but pre-training dynamic stretching/warm up shows no decline in strength [8].

It seems that static stretching is beneficial when done separately or after resistance training is finished, but it has a negative impact on performance when done immediately prior or during resistance training; however, dynamic stretching can be performed prior to resistance training with no negative effects.

Understanding the Physiology

So, why would stretching after training or on a separate day of training be beneficial, but stretching prior to training be detrimental to strength performance?

Good question, and there is no set answer. However, we need not let that dissuade us from offering a plausible understanding. It is likely that a stiff muscle and tendon offers greater resistance or “realization” of resistance as it is sooner stretched to limit than a newly stretched muscle [3][7]. A more compliant muscle is a less resistant muscle, and less resistance means less strength output [3][6][7][8]. It is also plausible that the neuromuscular connection reflex may be depressed due to acute stretching as stretching would lengthen the muscle from its usual stiff position, in which case the neuromuscular reaction to stretch might be less potent [6][7][8].

On the other hand, if a person were to stretch regularly and create a new “set point” or resting length of stiffness for the muscle and tendon, then a greater range of motion and possibly a bit of added damage during stretching could not only help in recovery by retaining warmth in the muscle post training, but could induce a bit of further damage to the sarcomere (piece of the muscle).

Stretching Recommendations?

So, taking what we know now, we can easily state that static stretching should be incorporated into a strength training, power training, or any other resistance training if static stretching is performed post-training or on a separate day. However, prior to training, it is agreeable to perform dynamic stretching, warming up via performing the exercise without load, for example.

SUMMARY

Our overall takeaway from this article should be that static stretching is beneficial to resistance training if done after training or on a separate day, and negatively impacts resistance training performance if performed prior to training or during training. On the other hand, dynamic stretching/warm up is acceptable with no decrease in performance if used immediately prior to resistance training.

Writer: Nicolas Verhoeven
This is educational material only and not meant to be prescripton, consult your physician before making any changes.

[1] Borges Bastos, C. L., Miranda, H., Gomes de Souza Vale, R., De Nazaré Portal, M., Gomes, M. T., Da Silva Novaes, J., & Winchester, J. B. (2013). Chronic Effect of Static Stretching on Strength Performance and Basal Serum IGF-1 Levels. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 27(9), 2465-2472. doi:10.1519/jsc.0b013e31828054b7

[2] Kokkonen, J., Nelson, A. G., Tarawhiti, T., Buckingham, P., & Winchester, J. B. (2010). Early-Phase Resistance Training Strength Gains in Novice Lifters Are Enhanced by Doing Static Stretching. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(2), 502-506. doi:10.1519/jsc.0b013e3181c06ca0

[3] Kokkonen, J., Nelson, A. G., & Cornwell, A. (1998). Acute Muscle Stretching Inhibits Maximal Strength Performance. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 69(4), 411-415. doi:10.1080/02701367.1998.10607716

[4] Blahnik, J. (2004). Full-body flexibility (2nd ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

[5] REES, S. S., MURPHY, A. J., WATSFORD, M. L., MCLACHLAN, K. A., & COUTTS, A. J. (2007). EFFECTS OF PROPRIOCEPTIVE NEUROMUSCULAR FACILITATION STRETCHING ON STIFFNESS AND FORCE-PRODUCING CHARACTERISTICS OF THE ANKLE IN ACTIVE WOMEN. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 21(2), 572-577. doi:10.1519/00124278-200705000-00049

[6] Page, P. (2012). CURRENT CONCEPTS IN MUSCLE STRETCHING FOR EXERCISE AND REHABILITATION. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 7(1), 109-119. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3273886/

[7] Anning, J. H. (n.d.). Influence of Pre-Exercise Stretching on Force Production. Retrieved from National Strength and Conditioning Association website: http://www.fullwindup.com/Influence-of-Pre-Exercise-Stretching-on-Force-Production.pdf

[8] Herda, T. J. (2008). Acute effects of static versus dynamic stretching on isometric peak torque, electromyography, and mechanomyography of the biceps femoris muscle. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 22(3), 809-817. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e31816a82ec

 

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