To Stretch, Or Not To Stretch

Should I stretch before or after practice coach?

Good question.

Here is the Merriam-Webster definition:

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Is it to make something longer or tighter? Even the dictionary is confused.

First off let’s define some types of stretching:

Ballistic stretching: the old-school bouncing when bending over trying to touch your toes. Don’t do it. Just don’t. It’s effect is to active the GTOs (golgi tendon organs) which sense quick stretch and react by contracting. In other words, it makes you tighter.

Passive stretching: The classic hamstring stretch. Touch your toes and hold for 30 seconds. This does increase range of motion. There are instances where you do want to increase range of motion. However, there is such a thing as too much range of motion. Double-jointedness is actually an instability of the joint from too much range of motion, not an anatomical difference in the joint from a normal joint

Active Stretching: This type of stretching uses muscle actively, as the name suggests, to take the muscle to its end range. It prepares the neurologic system and is regarded as a much more effective way to bring the joint and musculature to end range without decrease output.

PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) stretching: This is contract-relax stretching. You bring the muscle in question to its end range, then contract it with about 25% of your strength against a strap or your stretching partner, then as you relax, push it gently past its end range gaining new territory with every contract-relax.

So what should you do prior to exercise or sport? A warm-up is important to prepare your system. When we are sedentary, blood tends to pool towards the gut, especially after a meal. When you start warming up and moving, blood peripheralizes to the extremities. This is good. Blood is nutrition, it is oxygen, it is hydration, it encourages elasticity. Passive (static) stretching does nothing to bring blood to the periphery. Not only that, it can alter the length-tension of the muscle and actually decrease motor output. In other words, make you slightly weaker. However, take this with a grain of salt as the studies that found decreased output took measurements immediately after stretching, so the effect may be transient.

Instead, try an active stretch or dynamic stretch. Think high knees, kick-your-butts. Anything that takes joints to their end range, actively. Passive stretching after exercise or sport is okay. Just remember they have to be held for at least 30 seconds to achieve any benefit. Better yet, grab a buddy and do some PNF stretches.

The key, as we find out from just about every study, is to move. Remember, motion is lotion.



  1. Stretch. Merriam-Webster. Accessed August 27, 2018.

  2. Winchester JB, Nelson AG, Kokkonen J. A single 30-s stretch is sufficient to inhibit maximal voluntary strength. Res Q Exerc Sport, 2009; 80: 257-261.


Christopher EllisComment