However, once research began to look into the effects of static stretching and performance, it was found that this increase in relaxation could potentially limit the muscle's ability to contract. Mostly, lengthening the muscle would restrict the ability of the contractile components to function optimally while also limiting the ability to store and use elastic energy (1, 2).
Because of these studies suggesting reduced performance, many professionals have turned towards dynamic stretching, where the stretch involves controlled movement as a primary practice.
What research is beginning to show, however, is that while static stretching might reduce performance when used immediately before the activity, it appears these effects don't last as long as previously thought.
Additionally, the details of these studies show us that while static stretching might not be the worst idea, its effect on performance relies on the time of stretching relative to activity, the duration of the stretch, and potentially your athletic ability.
Let's take a look at some studies that reveal how stretching can influence performance.
STATIC VS. DYNAMIC STRETCHING IN AMATEUR SOCCER PLAYERS
In a study out of the Democritus University of Thrace, 16 amateur soccer players underwent two different stretching protocols and then performed sprints to understand the effect of static stretching (3).
Within these warm-up routines, the soccer players completed a general warm-up, completed a 20-meter sprint test, stretched either statically or dynamically for 6 minutes total, completed another 20-meter sprint, performed a 13-minute soccer-specific warm-up, and then finally completed another 20-meter sprint.
When researchers looked at sprint performance for each routine, they found that after static stretching, these participants sprinted significantly slower, which is consistent with some previous findings (1, 2, 3).
However, once the athletes completed their dynamic warm-up routine, their sprint performance improved relative to baseline. Virtually, while static stretching led to a performance decline immediately after the stretch, the incorporation of dynamic stretching replenished sprint ability (3).
STATIC STRETCHING & VERTICAL JUMP PERFORMANCE IN DIVISION II ATHLETES
In a different study from the Korea Institute of Sport Science, 26 Division II athletes volunteered to determine how different durations of static stretching might impact vertical jump performance (4).
These athletes performed a five-minute, light warm-up and, after a five-minute rest, performed three maximum-intensity vertical jumps, meant to provide a baseline of performance.
After this baseline vertical jump test, the athletes, in a random order, performed four stretches for 10 seconds each or 30 seconds each. After completing their stretch routine, they performed vertical jumps once more.
Surprisingly, the results showed that neither stretching protocol influenced jumping ability. While it appears that static stretching totaling up to 120 seconds in duration had no adverse effect on performance, it also didn't lead to any performance benefit (4).
It is, however, entirely plausible that the lack of performance decrements was due to the athletic status of the subjects, suggesting that experience might play a role in how stretching influences performance (4).
STATIC, DYNAMIC & PNF STRETCHING ON VERTICAL JUMP PERFORMANCE
In another fascinating study out of the University of Teesside, researchers tested how different stretching methods performed for long durations influence jumping ability. Eighteen males were recruited and performed three different stretching routines before performance testing (5).
After baseline performance testing, subjects performed ten total minutes of stretching. Each participant performed static stretches, dynamic stretches, PNF stretching, and no stretching at all on separate occasions. Then, the participants re-tested jump ability.
Importantly, PNF stretching is an assisted stretching technique where the subject contracts their muscle for 5 seconds and then relaxes while the coach actively stretches the muscle. This is a common practice, particularly for high-level athletics (10).
After each stretching routine, the subjects then performed three static jumps, and three countermovement jumps an additional six times for 60 minutes after each stretching procedure. This method provides greater insight into not only the short-term but also the long-term effects of each stretching routine on performance, especially as the event progresses.
Similar to previous studies, both static and PNF stretching led to decreased performance, but surprisingly, only for up to 15 minutes after the stretches (5).