Stretching guidelines

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) released stretching guidelines in 2002, which state:
– With a static stretch, the position in which a slight stretch is felt should be held 15-30 seconds, and each stretch should be repeated 3-5 times on each side of the body;
– You can also perform dynamic (or active) stretching;
– Stretching should not cause pain or take the joint past the normal range (stretching should occur to the point of tightness or slight discomfort);
– Stretching activities be done 2-3 days per week (daily if you have lost joint motion or feel stiff);
– They describe in some detail examples of stretches on their website;
– Other activities are also recommended for stretching – eg. Tai chi, yoga;
– Finally they mention that the key to stretching is that it should be done regularly and not at high intensity.

They go into more detail, advising:
– Repeat each stretch two to four times, accumulating 60 seconds per stretch;
– Static, dynamic, ballistic and PNF stretches are all effective;
– Flexibility exercise is most effective when the muscle is warm. Try light aerobic activity or a hot bath to warm the muscles before stretching.

So how effective is stretching?
– One study found that there are no benefits (and are potentially detrimental effects) to incorporating static stretches into the warm-up routine. The same study found however that benefits exist however from dynamic stretching (which involves movements designed to mimic specific actions occurring during athletic performance). Dynamic stretching protocols are believed to enhance blood flow and increase core temperature;
– Another study found there was moderate evidence that neuromuscular warm-up techniques could reduce injuries in female athletes – this included stretching, strengthening, balance exercises, sports-specific agility drills and landing techniques applied consistently for longer than three consecutive months;
– A Cochrane review found that muscle stretching, whether conducted before, after, or before and after exercise, does not produce clinically important reductions in delayed-onset muscle soreness in healthy adults.

Bottom line: it seems that perhaps static stretches may not be that effective, and if they are to be done, the ACSM guidelines doesn’t state that they need be done immediately before or directly after exercise. Dynamic stretches and those specific for your activity seem to be more effective and can be incorporated into your warm-up. If there are any benefits of dynamic stretching, they seem to lean more towards injury prevention rather than preventing muscle soreness.

References
American College of Sports Medicine (acsm.org)
Janot, Jeffrey M., Lance C. Dalleck, and Corey Reyment. Pre-exercise Stretching and Performance. The Stretching & Sports Injury Report 2010.
Herman K, Barton C, Malliaras P, Morrissey D. The effectiveness of neuromuscular warm-up strategies, that require no additional equipment, for preventing lower limb injuries during sports participation: a systematic review. BMC Med. 2012 Jul 19;10:75. doi: 10.1186/1741-7015-10-75. Review.
Stojanovic MD, Ostojic SM. Preventing ACL injuries in team-sport athletes: a systematic review of training interventions. Res Sports Med. 2012 Jul;20(3-4):223-38. doi: 10.1080/15438627.2012.680988. Review.
Herbert RD, de Noronha M, Kamper SJ. Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011 Jul 6;(7):CD004577. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004577.pub3
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