Seoul, South Korea
Wednesday 1st May 2013

After arriving in Seoul on Monday morning for our Asian Champions League game tonight, the Buriram United team has spent valuable time recovering from the effects of the long travel & subsequent sleep disturbance.  


As energy levels began to return, we trained last night at the stadium, which is just as imposing as I remember from my visit with Spurs for the Peace Cup final against FC Lyonnais in 2005.  


My initial impression of the city, in the short time we have been here, is a very positive one & the team walks through the local park have given us some spectacular views of the central business district.


The aim of our team walks has been to promote recovery with gentle, low impact exercise & at the end of the walks we have spent a few minutes stretching.  My reasoning behind incorporating stretches into this activity is to restore length to the soft tissue that has been resting in a fixed position for long periods on flights & bus transfers.  In addition, the oxygenation of the tissues & venous return should be enhanced through the combined period of walking & stretching.


During my days working with the Football Association, we discussed & debated the role of stretching in great depth.  In fact it was one of the most common points of enquiry from coaches on the courses we ran.  


Since returning to work in football with Buriram United, I have found myself revisiting the information we used to present all those years ago, in order to assess the efficacy of the warm ups I am seeing in the Thai Premier League.  I have seen several teams out here that still incorporate long periods of static stretching into their pre-match warm-up routines.


I have reviewed several of the papers that have been published & the evidence would suggest that this is not optimal practice. 


For clarity, I am initially going to define a few terms:


1) Static Stretching


Static stretching is mostly performed as a passive stretch, whereby the target muscle tendon units are not actively recruited & are stretched by applying an external force. Usually this controlled stretch is sustained for several seconds, with the aim of increasing the available range of motion.


2) Dynamic Stretching


If the joints are moved through the available range of motion with a controlled speed, this is usually described as dynamic stretching, which involves the antagonist muscle groups being recruited in a coordinated manner to provide the force of stretch.


3) Ballistic Stretching

Whilst ballistic stretching is obviously a form of dynamic stretching, the differentiation is often made because the movement through the range of motion is faster, nearly explosive & utilises the so called stretch-reflex where muscle spindles & golgi tendon organs are activated. 


If the aim of the exercise is to increase the range of motion of a joint, then passive stretching is often deemed the exercise of choice & the majority of the research that I have read, suggests these should be performed at least one to three times a week, with stretches applied for at least 20-30 seconds.  Static stretching might be more suited in football in the post-activity period (exercise/game), yet in the past, & as I have seen in recent weeks, it has been used in warm-ups too.



There is a body of research, however, that indicates there are limitations to such application.  If the number of repetitions, sets or duration of stretch are too great, the mean & peak force production of the muscles may be compromised (Rossi et al, 2010); motor performance skills & agility performance may be detrimentally impacted (Andrejic et al, 2012 & Amiri-Khorasani et al, 2010); running velocity may be negatively affected (Nelson et al, 2005 & Rountas et al, 2006) & explosive jump capabilities may be reduced (Faigenbaum et al, 2005).


It must also be remembered that if the passive range is increased without addressing the control of movement in the extremes of joint range, then a discrepancy between active & passive range can develop, which can result in an increased risk of injury.


In contrast, the muscle recruitment, proprioceptive feedback & isotonic demands of dynamic stretching, make it an ideal form of exercise in preparation for practice or game play.  In addition both dynamic & ballistic stretches can be adapted to incorporate sport specific movements, such as kicking, cutting or jumping for a footballer.


Dynamic stretching has been shown to have a positive influence on sprint times (Saoulidis et al, 2006) & jump scores (Carvalho et al, 2012).  Even more interestingly decreases in blood lactate concentration, increases in VO2 max & increases in time to exhaustion have also been demonstrated after dynamic warm-ups in comparison to static stretching (Kaur et al, 2008).


Given the increased rate of movement in ballistic stretching, this should be introduced as the temperature & viscosity of the soft tissue increases as the stretching progresses.


To review the papers in more detail, click on the links below:


Amiri-Khorasani, M. et al (2010).  Acute effect of different stretching methods on Illinois agility test in soccer players.  J of Strength & Cond Res24(10):  pp 2698-2704


Andrejic, O. et al (2012).  Acute effects of low & high volume stretching on fitness performance in young basketball players.  Serbian J of Sports Sci6(1): pp 11-16


Carvalho, F.L.P. et al (2012).  Acute effects of a warm-up including active, passive & dynamic stretching on vertical jump performance.  J of Strength & Cond Res26(9):  pp 2447-2452


Faigenbaum, A.D. et al (2005).  Acute effects of different warm-up protocols on fitness performance in children.  J of Strength & Cond Res19(2):  pp 376-381


Kaur, R. et al (2008). Effects of various warm-up protocols on endurance & blood lactate concentration.  Serbian J of Sports Sci; 2(1-4): pp 101-109  


Nelson, A.G. et al (2005).  Acute effects of passive muscle stretching on sprint performance.  J of Sports Sciences; 23(5): pp 449-454 


Rossi, L.P. et al (2010).  Influence of static stretching duration on quadriceps force development & electromyographic activity.  Human Movement11(2): pp 137-143


Rountas, P. et al (2006).  Acute effect of static & dynamic stretching on sprint performance in adolescent basketball players. Unpublished


Saoulidis, J. et al (2006).  Acute effect of short passive & dynamic stretching on 20m sprint performance in handball players.  Unpublished

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