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Dynamic Stretching during Warm-Up?

by: Carol J.M. Clein, MBA, MS, CSCS
Boyd H. Anderson High School, Lauderdale Lakes, Florida
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On almost every football field in America, at some point before practices and games, the teams line-up and static stretch. Football teams have always done it, so what is the problem? The problem is that if anyone responsible for those football teams was asked why they are static stretching, they will probably not be able to offer a reason that is supported by current research. Is there a better activity to include in the warm-up?

Dynamic stretch can generally be defined as controlled, steady movements through the range of motion that would be achieved by each joint during the activity. Static stretching involves reaching and holding at a point of slight discomfort. Ideally, warm-up for a sport should include activities that prepare the body for the sport, improve performance – or at the very least, not negatively impact performance – and reduce the risk of injury.

Preparing the body for sport performance involves the raising of core body temperature and increasing the blood flow to, as well as the temperature of, the muscles to be used during the sport. The increased temperature increases the speed of the chemical reactions involved in energy utilization and assists in the transition from resting to exercise. Commonly used measures of football performance potential, such as those tested at a football combine, are not always direct indicators of football performance. The strength and speed tests are used as indicators of one element of performance; therefore, improved speed and strength performance is desirable for football.

There is a common belief that stretching prior to exercise is required to prevent injury. Perhaps because of this universal belief about the prophylactic effect of stretching, few studies have been performed that directly address this issue. The sport of football involves explosive movements of power and speed that are repeated with active rest intervals. Since research has not been specifically performed on dynamic stretch for football, this article reviews current research on the effects of dynamic stretch on explosive power and speed and whether there is sufficient research evidence to support the inclusion of dynamic stretch in a warm-up for football. As a by-product, any activities that would be contraindicated, based upon the stated warm-up goals, will also be identified.

Research studies have shown that easy movements increasing in intensity and covering a range of motion applicable for the activity to be performed are the most appropriate preparation for powerful activities. The tests performed in the research reviewed included activities such as vertical jump, sprinting, leg extension, and zig-zag agility runs. There is some indication that the negative effect of static stretching is greater on more powerful athletes. It is usually recommended that static stretching should be performed after these activities but not before because static stretching either negatively effects or has no effect on performance. Active warm-up usually leads to a positive effect on performance. Though no studies have been performed on football players to date, research subjects have included everyone from healthy college students, to collegiate and professional athletes such as soccer players, rugby players and elite collegiate track athletes. Even though the track athletes were uncomfortable sprinting without their familiar static stretching routine, their times were better after an active warm-up through the range of motion used in their sport.

Research to date has been insufficient to support or discourage pre-exercise stretching as a means of reducing injury. Flexibility is clearly enhanced by stretching but it is not clear what affect flexibility has on risk of injury. In 2000, the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports stated that there is little evidence to support current common static stretch practices as a way of reducing muscle injury.* They also stated that stretching is recommended after vigorous exercise, during cool down to prevent injuries caused by stretching. Interestingly, they issued the warning: “Stretching in the warm-up prior to physical activity may weaken muscles and decrease performance.”

Based on the research reviewed here, and in consideration of the purposes of the warm-up previously stated, dynamic stretch may be appropriate as part of the warm-up for football. Dynamic stretch increases blood flow and body and muscle temperature because it is an active form of stretch. Studies consistently demonstrate an increase in power and speed when compared to non-stretch, static stretch and other stretch protocols. At this time, no studies regarding dynamic stretch and injury could be found. The affect of actual range of motion movements on risk of injury requires additional research.

More assuredly, studies have shown that static stretching in the warm-up has anywhere from no effect to a significantly negative effect on power and speed performance. Some evidence even supports an increase in the likelihood of injury. The very nature of static stretching leads to no appreciable “warm-up” effect, such as increased core temperature, muscle temperature or blood flow to the muscle groups the athlete is preparing for performance.

It is only fair to disclose that the football teams coached by the author perform a brief “warm-up” activity followed by dynamic stretch, then sport-specific movements of increasing intensity, prior to any practice or game. Though the author’s experience is limited to five seasons with this type of pre-exercise routine and observation has been unscientific, there appears to have been a reduction in non-contact injuries. Research does not conclusively support these warm-up choices for football. However, the author has a reason for every warm-up activity and those that have been shown to have no positive influence on performance are excluded.

* KNUDSON, D.V., P. MAGNUSSON, and M. MCHUGH. Current issues in flexibility fitness. Pres. Council Phys. Fitness Sports. 3:1-6, 2000.

Carol Clein has coached football for eight seasons and is currently the Associate Head Coach, Strength and Conditioning Coach, and Defensive Line Coach at Boyd H. Anderson High School. Clein has her Bachelor’s from Miami and her Master’s from Florida Atlantic.


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