Throughout the year, we publish essays from Professor Andrew Lyon‘s Honors 389 course “The Science Blender” . The first paper of this term asked students to: research and summarize an example of our evolving scientific knowledge. That is, how has society’s scientifically-driven “conventional wisdom” on a topic evolved as new scientific knowledge has come to light?”

Below is one student’s essay on the topic.

Conventional wisdom states that stretching before exercise is a must; to avoid injury and improve performance stretch your muscles out before you play a sport, work out, or perform other physical tasks. For years coaches have instructed athletes to stretch, but is this practice helping or hindering athletic ability? Studies may show that stretching is not as beneficial as once thought.

One study that has raised many eyebrows is one performed by James Zois at Victoria University. In his study, which was performed on professional athletes, Zois concluded that static stretching reduced vertical jumping performance by 8%. Static stretching in this case refers to stretching in one position for an extended period of time, or what most people do when they stretch. Zois suggests that dynamic stretching, or warming up with movement of the muscles rather than the stretching of muscles is a much better way to prepare for exercise, with a 2% boost in performance.*

Another report, written in 2011, synthesized many studies on stretching and athletic performance throughout the years and concluded that static stretching may have benefits in certain situations; however, only when done for a brief period of time. The study also concluded that dynamic warm-ups were much more effective than static stretching.

The report touches on the changing view stretching before physical activity brought on by various studies over time:

“From Worrell’s study of 15 years ago to the present day, the perception regarding the benefits of static stretching in a warm-up has changed dramatically. There are many studies showing that static stretching can lead to impairments in subsequent performance.”

The 42 studies cited in the paper had 1606 participants who were tested while performing several different types of physical activity. While I can’t evaluate each individual study, the fact that all of the measurements seemed to point to the result that stretching has detrimental effects on physical performance, over such a wide scope of studies, I can come to the probable conclusion that as more research has been put in to the topic of static stretching, the evidence is mounted against the traditional notion that stretching is a good warm up.

* While I found articles citing Zois’ original study, I couldn’t find the original paper itself, so the validity of the statements made in the secondary sources may have been diminished when compared to the original source. This is a limitation to the credibility of the study, however when searching the Victoria University, I found that the original text is available in hard copy form at Victoria University, it just isn’t accessible on the internet at this time. Other studies supported the findings of this paper, such as a paper written in 2005. The fact that multiple preexisting modern studies support his findings is a good sign for the validity of the study.