Over the weekend I was sifting through some articles to see if I could find a good one to write a review on for Fitness Research Review Service.

I came across an interesting article assessing differences in flexibility improvements comparing active and passive stretching and wanted to share the results with you.

I still go back and forth on stretching. Part of me thinks it’s completely necessary. Part of me thinks that spending 30s a couple times a week stretching a muscle isn’t going to undo the hours we spend in bad positions. The time numbers just don’t add up. I also think there’s something to be said for manual therapy and myofascial release as a mechanism of improve tissue length/extensibility.

With all that said, I think it’s important that you contract the antagonistic muscle whenever possible during your stretches. For instance, if you’re doing a half kneeling hip flexor stretch, squeeze your butt on your back leg while you perform the stretch. There are two reasons to do this:

1) Contracting the antagonist muscle inhibits (read: relaxes) the stretched muscle due to a neural mechanism.

2) Contracting the antagonist muscle promotes muscular control and stability in the improved range of motion.

In line with the second point, a study by Meroni et al. (2010) compared active stretching (using antagonist contraction to pulling the joint into its endpoint and holding it there) with passive stretching (typical static stretching method). In this study, despite the total passive stretching session duration lasting longer than the total active stretching session duration (12 mins vs. 8 mins, respectively), the active stretching group’s ROM improved significantly more than the passive groups after 6 weeks of performing the stretches 2 times a day for 4 days per week (8.7 degrees versus 5.3 degrees).

A subset of the initial group was re-assessed 4 weeks after the conclusion of the study. Interestingly, the active stretching group maintained a 6.3 degree ROM improvements, whereas the passive stretching group only maintained a 0.1 degree ROM improvement. Maintenance was better in both groups for the individuals that participated in sports. Interestingly, those participants in the passive group that didn’t participate in sports actually LOST 2.7 degrees of ROM over the 4 weeks following the study.

This study definitely questions the long term efficacy of typical static stretching protocols and provides evidence that static stretching may induce only short-term changes in the musculotendinous complex.

Interesting stuff to say the least. I think one of the big take homes here is:

If you’re going to perform static stretches, contract the antagonist muscles during the stretch!

-Kevin Neeld

Meroni, R., Cerri, C.G., Lanzarini, C., et al. (2010). Comparison of Active Stretching Technique and Static Stretching Technique on Hamstring Flexibility. Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, 20(1), 8-14.

Please enter your first name and email below to sign up for my FREE Athletic Development and Hockey Training Newsletter!

Those of you that have been following me for a while know that I do my best to stay current with the research. Yes, I frequently browse research articles for fun. I’m fully aware of the various categories of uncool this places me in.

Recently I’ve found myself so swamped with work at Endeavor and completing my most recent Hockey Development project (I should have more information for you about when this will be released by next week), that I haven’t had as much time as I like to stay current on everything.

This problem seems to be common amongst most people in the human performance industry (training, rehab, nutrition, etc.). Until recently, there wasn’t really a great solution. My friend Shawn Thistle has put together a truly unbelievable resource for busy fitness professionals called Fitness Research Review Service.

The concept behind the site is simple: Create quickly-read, easily digestible summaries of relevant and important research articles so busy people like us can get all the info we need, quickly. The site is LOADED with articles on all aspects of sports performance, from injury prevention to periodization training models to nutrition.

When Shawn first told me about the site, I knew I had to be a part of it. I’ve been an author on the site now for several months and have been blown away by the quality of the content from other authors on there. I love the site because I can sign in once every week and catch up on 5-10 articles within an hour or so. Can’t beat that!

Click the link below for more information!

Fitness Research Review Service

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

P.S. Keep checking back here for more information on my new Hockey Development Coaching Program!

Please enter your first name and email below to sign up for my FREE Athletic Development and Hockey Training Newsletter!