The most interesting findings of this research were that in highly trained, nonsprint-trained, university age physical education students, static stretching at maximal or submaximal intensity did not adversely affect performance. Secondly, DS did not enhance nor impede performance whether conducted separately or in conjunction with static stretching.
No sequencing effect of DS and static stretching was found in the present study as there were no statistically significant impairments associated with static stretching or were there impairments or facilitation associated with DS. Although the majority of studies report static stretching-induced impairments, there are studies that have shown no deficits for running economy (27), sprint time (55), and jump performance (42,43,64). Nevertheless, DS or ballistic stretching has been reported to enhance performance in power (38,61,62), agility (34,38), sprint time (21), and vertical jump (60). Alternatively, other studies have reported no change in MVC force (28), countermovement, and drop jump heights (54) with prior DS. Hence, the present study is in agreement with a number of the studies found in the literature on the effects of prior stretching. The lack of stretch-induced disruptions found in other studies may be related to a number of factors including the age and trained status of the group, volume and intensity of the stretching protocol, and recovery interval between stretching and testing. These factors are addressed in the following discussion.
Whereas there are a number of studies documenting SS-induced impairments in jump height (16,55,65,66) and sprint time (21,22,34,40), there is also evidence that more highly trained individuals are more resistant to these stretch-induced deficits. Little and Williams (34) reported no effect of static stretching on sprint times of highly trained male professional soccer players. The running economy of competitive male middle distance runners (average of 6 years of training) was not adversely affected by prior static stretching or DS (27). Also, actively trained college-aged women did not experience any significant impairment in vertical jump (54) or peak torque or mean isokinetic power (19) following static or ballistic stretching. Both Unick et al. (54) and Egan et al. (19) suggested that trained athletes might be less susceptible to the stretching-induced deficits than untrained. Chaouachi et al. (15) found that after 6 weeks of training, the stretch- and sprint-trained participants were more resistant to stretch-induced sprint deficits. Hence, a stretch and sprint training program in 13- to 15-year olds diminished the detrimental effects of static stretching compared with a sprint-only training program. In this context, it has to be noted that the participants in the present study were highly trained physical education students, which could help to explain the absence of effects observed.
Reported changes in muscle compliance and activation could adversely affect power and ground contact time. Studies have reported both decreases (37,52) and no change (35,36) in musculotendinous unit (MTU) passive resistance or stiffness with an acute bout of static stretching. Changes in MTU stiffness might be expected to impact the transmission of forces and the rate of force transmission, which are essential variables in sprinting (18). However, research examining the effect of prior static stretching on sprint performance has been equivocal. Winchester et al. (59) reported that when static stretching was included with a dynamic warm-up, it inhibited sprint performance in collegiate athletes (∼20 years old). Similarly, Fletcher and Anness (21) reported decreased sprint performance in 19- to 20-year-old track and field athletes when static stretching was combined with DS. Conversely, static stretching did not appear detrimental to high-speed sprint performance in professional soccer players (34). Vetter (55) implemented a variety of warm-ups that included DS and static stretching routines in a heterogeneous group of college age men and women. The warm-up with a static stretching component negatively impacted jump performance, but not sprint time.
The present study revealed that the control condition with no stretching but including a general active aerobic warm-up followed by a specific explosive dynamic warm-up significantly improved times in the 30-m sprint (p = 0.05). While numerically superior but not statistically significant, the control condition had faster times than all other conditions during the sprints. A warm-up has the common goal of increasing muscle temperature in preparation for exercise by literally warming up the muscle to increase metabolic rate as well as attempting to increase muscle extensibility (7). Warming-up can result in decreased muscle viscosity (48), increased variables such as oxygen uptake during subsequent exercise (30), nerve conduction velocity (50), glycolysis (49), ROM (51), anaerobic performance (51), and muscle tensile strength (45). Hence, the faster sprint times in the control condition may be attributed to the increased muscle temperature without the interference of stretching.
Postactivation potentiation (PAP) may be a contributing factor to the faster sprint times with the control condition as well as the lack of stretch-induced deficits in the other conditions (46). All experimental conditions included not only a preliminary aerobic style warm-up but also higher intensity explosive contractions with dynamic actions such as sprints, agility runs, hopping, and bounding. PAP can produce improvements in the rate of force development (3,46), reaction and processing time (20), vertical jump height, and explosive force (26) and can be induced by intermittent activity (1) and all 3 types of contractions (concentric, isometric, and eccentric) (2). Hence, the expected stretch-induced deficits in run and jump measures (based on previous literature) may have been offset by the PAP effects of the prior high-intensity sprints, agility runs, hops, and bounding.
The volume and timing of stretching may also be a factor. No significant impairments in jump performance were reported with a lower volume (2-4 sets of 15-second stretches or 2 minutes of stretching at 90% intensity, respectively) of static stretching (43,64). While Winchester et al. (59) reported stretch-induced sprint decrements with 10 minutes of stretching, the present study with 8 minutes of static stretching and other stretch and running studies that included 4 (55) and 7 (53) minutes of stretching did not show significant running decrements. Furthermore, highly trained track athletes' sprint testing of Winchester et al. (59) was conducted 5 minutes following their stretching protocol. In the present study, static stretching was followed by 5-7 minutes of dynamic sport-specific activity, 2-minute recovery and a randomized allocation of assorted sprint, agility, and jump testing that could have placed the sprint testing for some participants approximately 20 minutes after the warm-up procedure. Torres et al. (53) concur by stating that a time of 5 minutes or longer after stretching may allow the body to dissipate any negative effects. Hence, lower volumes of static stretching and longer recovery periods may diminish stretch-induced impairments.
There has been some evidence in the literature to suggest that less than maximal intensity stretching might not produce stretch-induced deficits (31,32,64). Young et al. (64) manipulated the volume of stretching and in one condition had the participants stretch to 90% of POD. The submaximal intensity stretch of the plantar flexors was calculated by decreasing the ROM by 10% from the angle achieved when the subjects were stretched at the POD. They found that 2 minutes of static stretching at 90% intensity had no effect on muscle performance (concentric calf raise and drop jump height). Knudson et al. published 2 studies (31,32) where the subjects were stretched to a point “just before” discomfort. Neither study showed significant decreases in performance. In one study (31), there was a trend toward impaired vertical jump height (3%), while the other study reported no change in tennis serve velocity (32). Behm and Kibele (6) conversely did find SS-induced deficits in jump performance when stretching at the POD as well as at the 50 and 75% of the POD. In the present study, there were no effects with either maximal or submaximal intensity static stretching that could be attributable to the participants' trained state or recovery interval between stretching and testing.
The present study did not show significant impairments in sprint time associated with prior static stretching or DS except for one condition (DS + SS<POD). Whereas the majority of studies report SS-induced impairments, there are similar studies without stretch-induced disruptions. Similar to other studies, the present study's lack of impairments may be attributed to the trained state of the participants, volume of stretching, or recovery interval between stretching and testing. There was no significant effect of sequencing the stretches on subsequent performance.
Based on the present study and previous studies, static stretching and DS may be implemented before running and jumping in highly trained athletes if preceded by an aerobic warm-up that increases muscle temperature and followed by higher intensity dynamic or explosive activities. Since the literature is not unanimous, athletes should be cautious when static stretching before an event. Static stretching before an event may not be a necessity for all activities as an aerobic warm-up alone has been shown to increase ROM (63) and in the present study and other studies improves performance (63). Although the present study did not reveal detriments with stretching to the POD, to be conservative, from a performance standpoint, static stretching should be performed with less than maximal tension (below POD) on the muscle (31,32,64), be of short duration (less than 30 seconds), low volume (less than 6 repetitions (43) or 60 seconds per muscle) and provide a prolonged recovery period between static stretching and performance (>5 minutes) (53).
This study was supported by the Tunisian Ministry of Scientific Research, Technology and Development of Competences, Tunisia. The authors thank the staff of the National Centre of Medicine and Science in Sports, as well as the students-athletes for their participation in this study.
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