What’s the Deal with Static Stretching?
In the strength and conditioning world, there will always be an argument about static stretching. Simply put, I believe static stretching has it’s time and place in any program.
The research says that static stretching decreases force output and rate of force development despite ecological validity (carry-over effect). There are also some studies that state static stretching has no changes in performance. You can see where these arguments stem from.
Why do we do static stretching anyway? The theory is: if a joint has an increased range of motion (ROM), the working muscles may be able to produce a more powerful contraction.
But what about those who absolutely hate static stretching and say that it’s evil?
This is because research has shown that changes in the musculotendinous unit (muscle-tendon junction) caused by static stretching decrease force production due to an altered length-tension relationship within the muscle.
One of my previous articles (running one, check it out!) briefly describes the length-tension relationship that our muscles need to produce a forceful contraction.
In another previous article, I stated that a warm up is different between individuals. For some, stretching may feel good because they are “tight”. On the other end of the spectrum, you can have a player who is very loose jointed and already has a prerequisite ROM needed to throw a baseball.
By the way, if you are loose jointed and still stretch, I won’t be the first to say STOP stretching!
Going back to my main point that stretching has it’s time and place, I am mostly talking about these loose-jointed individuals. Stretching may further damage the integrity of your joints. What you need in your warm up is stability!
However, without argument, every player does need a dynamic warm up prior to throwing a baseball. This warm up should include some mobility and activation work to get your nervous system primed for activity.
Not a lot of the previous research has looked at static stretching in the upper extremities, so that’s where this study shed some light! One study, performed in tennis players and the overhead serve, showed that performance was not altered when static stretching was performed.
This specific study that I am sharing talks about the acute effects of static stretching on the throwing shoulder with throwing velocity and accuracy in collegiate baseball players. Let’s go over it in the simplest way possible!
There were 12 players included in this study: 6 position players and 6 pitchers. All 12 players were split up into either the experimental or control condition.
The control condition included the normal team warm-up: a light 200-meter jog and playing catch for 10-15 minutes.
The experimental condition followed the same warm-up as the control, but also included 6 static stretches of their throwing shoulder into the routine after playing catch.
Once the warm-up was completed, all players rested for at least 5 minutes (one of the MANY limitations of this study, that I will talk about more later).
In the experimental condition, 4 of the 6 stretches required the assistance of an athletic training student (with several years of experience, supposedly).
These stretches included shoulder horizontal adduction (arm across the body), horizontal abduction (arm away from the body in the same plane), external rotation (palm away), internal rotation (palm towards the body), flexion (arm overhead), and extension (arm at the side going behind the body).
All the stretches were held for 30 seconds to a point of mild discomfort and rested for 10 seconds between each stretch.
All 12 players, from both conditions, threw off a mound to achieve maximal throwing velocity. The researchers also tried to look at throwing accuracy, but I don’t think it is as important for this study.
Average velocity and maximum velocity were both recorded with 10 pitches.
Statistical testing showed no significant differences between the control and experimental group for average velocity or maximum velocity. Before groups were chosen, there could have been a statistical difference between these groups, but according to the author’s there were no differences.
These results show that the static stretching protocol did NOT have a significant effect on throwing velocity. Accuracy was also compared between groups, and before I mentioned that I didn’t think it was important for this study. Well, do we really need to see if position players would be more accurate than pitchers when throwing off a mound?
However, accuracy was also not effected for pitchers, and this is an important finding. Basically, static stretching does not alter the arm path of a highly-skilled baseball player.
This finding agrees with other research in tennis players, showing that tennis serve accuracy was not altered after an acute static stretching protocol.
However, this study does have a good amount of limitations. Let’s go through them one-by-one.
- 5 minutes of rest between the acute stretching and throwing a baseball may have been enough for the changes in the musculotendinous unit to diminish.
- This rest period was designed to replicate real-life situations
- Further research is needed to understand the minimal amount of rest we need
Volume and Intensity of Stretching:
- Several studies show that a duration of 30 seconds is enough for producing a slight increase in joint ROM without effecting power or strength
- A duration of 60 seconds or more seems to decrease strength and power but does not further improve joint ROM
- Although the total volume of stretching in this study was much greater than 60 seconds, each stretch was only performed one time with 10 seconds of rest in between each stretch. More research is needed to see if a repeated stretch, and total volume for a specific stretch, can alter joint ROM even more.
Focusing on Small Muscle Groups:
- Accuracy may not have been altered because of the complex nature of the throwing motion
- The throwing motion does not ONLY include the throwing shoulder. It is a symphony of multiple joints and muscles that allow energy to be transferred up the kinetic chain
- Stretching may not have influenced these muscles because the intensity was not great enough
- A total body static stretching routine may have had some effect on the throwing motion, considering it is a full-body motion
- Only 10 pitches were used to compute for average and maximal velocity. This may be relevant for a closer or middle-relief guy, but not for your average starting pitcher who will probably reach above 10 pitches in the first inning
- “Normal team warm up” consisting of a light 200-meter jog and some throwing. I think we know better than this by now…
- Very low sample size makes it difficult to have a large effect size (the projectability of the results)
- 4 of the 6 stretches were needed with the assistance of a student athletic trainer. This may be excellent if you have access to these kind of people, but what if you play travel baseball and nobody knows how to stretch you out?
Before bashing any sort of static stretching routine, it is important to do your research! That is precisely why I started digging up research. After getting knowledge on the topic, I can then make an informed, unbiased decision based on the data that has been presented to me.
As previously mentioned, some players like to include some static stretching into their routine because it makes them “feel” better.
In his book Advances in Functional Training, Mike Boyle talks about what he does for stretching. He stated that he talked to some of the greatest exercise physiologist’s in the world, and they believe that to stretch a muscle it must be “cold”. In other words, before your movement preparation stuff.
So, just to play it safe, I would recommend not to stretch for more than 30 seconds if you do want to stretch it into your routine (pun intended).
Go through your movement preparation, get your joints lubricated, prime up your nervous system, and then start throwing!
Jarad Vollkommer, CSCS
Haag, S.J., Wright, G.A., Gillette, C.M., and Greany, J.F. (2010). Effects of acute static stretching of the throwing shoulder on pitching performance on national collegiate athletic association Division III baseball players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 24(2), 452-457.