In static stretching, a muscle is stretched to the point of mild discomfort and the position is held for 15 sec or more. In contrast, dynamic stretching involves rapidly moving in and out of the stretched position. The former recommendation in favor of static stretching was based on the finding that it was effective for lasting improvements in flexibility. Thus, for many years, pre-competition static stretching was widely recommended for a broad range of athletes. However, recent studies, such as the one described below, have shown that static stretching before athletic efforts requiring explosive power (e.g. sprinting and jumping) actually hurts performance.
In a study by La Torre et al. (Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, vol 24, no 3, pages 687-694, 2010), 17 young men performed vertical squat jumps from a force-detecting platform using various starting knee angles. On one day, they did the jumps after performing static stretches of their quadriceps and calf muscles for 10 minutes. Each muscle was stretched on both legs using 4 sets of 30-second holds with 30-second rests between sets. On another day they did the jumps without stretching beforehand.
At all starting knee angles, stretching before the jump test reduced jump height, peak force, and maximal acceleration, but only the differences for jumps beginning with the knees least bent were statistically significant. When starting the jump with the knees flexed 50 degrees (about a half-squat position) jump height, peak force, and maximum acceleration were respectively 21%, 9%, and 15% lower when stretching was performed first than when no stretching was performed.
This study reinforces other ones showing that static stretching prior to an athletic event reduces explosive muscular power. The fact that the negative effect is most pronounced when the knees are only bent to a moderate degree is highly relevant to sports activities because most sports do not involve deeply bending the knee. Dynamic stretching does not have the same detrimental effect. Thus, it appears that before athletic events that require power but not great flexibility it is best to warm up thoroughly and perform dynamic stretches before the event. The detrimental effect of static stretching on muscular power has not been shown to carry over to the following day. Therefore, static stretching may be performed after an athletic event to promote general flexibility without harming physical performance.