There have been a lot of questions about the benefits of stretching particularly of concern to performance enhancement and injury prevention for human and animal athletes alike.
The general consensus has been that stretching provides increased range of motion and injury prevention and that all stretching was equal and beneficial to performance.
More recently though researchers have placed the act of stretching under scrutiny, more particularly the type of stretches we implement.
Static stretching is deep, and slow, it usually involves a singular motion and is held in place for ten seconds or more, sometimes up to 30 seconds.
Dynamic stretches are repetitive and challenging motions which help the targeted muscle group to have increased range of motion with each repetition
Most recent studies found that when athletes performed static stretches performance suffered. It caused the nervous system to tighten the muscles that were stretched which was actually counter intuitive.
The National Strength and Conditioning Association’s Guide to Program Design reports that “there is a growing body of research evidence which indicates that pre-event static stretching may actually have a negative effect on force production, power performance, strength endurance, reaction time, and running speed”.
An article by Gretchen Reynolds from the New York Times (2011) cites a study conducted at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas which illustrated that “athletes generated less force from their leg muscles after static stretching than they did after not stretching at all.” She reported that “this stretching decreases muscle strength by as much as 30 percent” and “stretching one leg’s muscles can reduce strength in the other leg as well, probably because the central nervous system rebels against the movements”.
Malachy McHugh , the director of research at the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City states that “the straining muscle becomes less responsive and stays weakened for up to 30 minutes after stretching, which is not how an athlete wants to begin a workout.(To Stretch or Not to Stretch, G. Reynolds, The NewYork Times, 2011)
Kay and Blazevich (2012) also concluded after a peer review analysis of over 4000 articles “the detrimental effects of stretching are mainly limited to static stretching of longer durations (≥ 60 s). Shorter durations of stretch (<60 s) can be performed in a pre-exercise routine without compromising maximal muscle performance.
So, with all of this food for thought should we eliminate static stretching from our athletic programs all together? Definitely not.
Dynamic stretching and a good warm ups are paramount to successful training and maintenance. Dynamic stretches help us to prepare the body for light work, it prepares the body and the nervous system for higher intensity work and also safeguards us from over stretching. Recommendations still remain that “most athletes should perform some form of static stretching” but should be reserved for “cool-downs or as part of a separate training session”. (NSCA's Guide to Program Design, 2018).
The take home here is that not all stretches are created equal, it is extremely important to consider what type of event or work we are preparing for and to take into account what types of movements will be expected. Will my animal require improved proprioception and flexibility or do they require quicker response times and agility? Wether it be a rigorous mountain hike with Fido or a weekend rodeo with our trusty steed stretching is an easy addition to our routine that can improve their day to day well being and performance.