Non-active stretching doesn’t prevent injuries

Jul 31, 2012

Do you remember going to physical education class, and your teacher told you to stretch before engaging in activity because it minimized the chances of injury? Well according to the latest sports science research, this exercise propaganda regarding stretching is wrong.
In a study conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Elon University, traditional stretching does not prevent injuries or post-workout muscle soreness, and does not improve exercise performance.
Furthermore, the same study also found that utilizing passive stretching (when a partner helps you stretch by applying extra pressure) increased flexibility at fast rates than static stretching (stretching on your own without any assistance from a partner), but this increased flexibility also deteriorated running form due to a decrease in joint stability.
While those who participate in ballet, gymnastics, and swimming benefit greatly from engaging in a regular passive stretching regimen, athletes who played contact sports had higher rates of dislocations, and ligament/tendon injuries when performing a similar stretching routine at least four days per week.
However, the study also found that those who performed active stretching (moving your muscles through a normal range-of-motion by performing movements like high kicks, lunges, and arm circles) had lower rates of receiving a traumatic injury while in practice or competition.
The researchers concluded that athletes who had higher levels of cardiovascular conditioning and possessed a lower body fat percentage were far less likely to receiving a traumatic injury. The study also found that female athletes who were menstruating had higher rates of ligament/tendon injuries and increased flexibility scores compared to times when they were not menstruating.
With this new information regarding the correct stretching to utilize for a particular sport, it’ll be interesting to see if coaches and athletes change their habits in order to maximize performance and minimize injuries.
“The fact is that unless a coach or athletic trainer goes to a workshop, they aren’t going to learn about new research regarding updated training methods,” said Chris Jenkins, a former men’s basketball graduate assistant at Emporia State University. “Most coaches view the stretching and warm-up sections of practice as a time to review their practice schedule and talk with other coaches about expectations for the day. The athletes are probably doing the same stretching routines that their fathers did when they were competing, mainly because the coaches teach techniques they are familiar with. Of course coaches should be more invested in the warm-ups their athletes are performing, but if they were being honest, most coaches would tell you there is nothing wrong with the way they have been doing things.”
When I look back upon my scholastic and college playing experiences, I can’t say that any of my coaches were that educated on proper stretching and warm-up techniques.  As a matter of fact, I pretty much had the same warm-up routines from youth leagues through college. However, if the current research states that most athletes should perform more active stretching rather than the traditional static stretching to avoid injury, I’m left asking the following three questions.
First, how will the scientific community ensure that coaches and athletes around the country learn about these findings, and implement new techniques into their daily practice schedule? Secondly, will coaches embrace this new emphasis on active stretching and do away with the static methods that have been around for multiple generations? Lastly, will athletes who have been performing static stretching for their entire sporting lives be willing to adopt a new routine, thus asking them to break warm-up habits they’ve become accustomed to?
While the sports community contemplates this dilemma, I’m going to go ice my shoulder down. After dislocating over 100 times since my senior year in high school, it gets a little sore from time-to-time. Maybe if I had done more active stretching in high school, I could’ve avoided this ailment…but I still have my memories, right?

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