Skip to main content

Mechanisms underlying performance impairments following prolonged static stretching without a comprehensive warm-up

Abstract

Whereas a variety of pre-exercise activities have been incorporated as part of a “warm-up” prior to work, combat, and athletic activities for millennia, the inclusion of static stretching (SS) within a warm-up has lost favor in the last 25 years. Research emphasized the possibility of SS-induced impairments in subsequent performance following prolonged stretching without proper dynamic warm-up activities. Proposed mechanisms underlying stretch-induced deficits include both neural (i.e., decreased voluntary activation, persistent inward current effects on motoneuron excitability) and morphological (i.e., changes in the force–length relationship, decreased Ca2+ sensitivity, alterations in parallel elastic component) factors. Psychological influences such as a mental energy deficit and nocebo effects could also adversely affect performance. However, significant practical limitations exist within published studies, e.g., long-stretching durations, stretching exercises with little task specificity, lack of warm-up before/after stretching, testing performed immediately after stretch completion, and risk of investigator and participant bias. Recent research indicates that appropriate durations of static stretching performed within a full warm-up (i.e., aerobic activities before and task-specific dynamic stretching and intense physical activities after SS) have trivial effects on subsequent performance with some evidence of improved force output at longer muscle lengths. For conditions in which muscular force production is compromised by stretching, knowledge of the underlying mechanisms would aid development of mitigation strategies. However, these mechanisms are yet to be perfectly defined. More information is needed to better understand both the warm-up components and mechanisms that contribute to performance enhancements or impairments when SS is incorporated within a pre-activity warm-up.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1

Abbreviations

ECM:

Extracellular matrix

EMD:

Electromechanical delay

EMG:

Electromyography

E-reflex:

Exteroceptive reflex

GABA:

Gamma aminobutyric acid

GTO:

Golgi tendon organ

H-reflex:

Hoffman reflex

MEP:

Motor evoked potential

MTU:

Muscle–tendon unit

MVC:

Maximal voluntary contraction

MVIC:

Maximal voluntary isometric contraction

NMES:

Neuromuscular electrical stimulation

PEC:

Parallel elastic component

PF:

Plantar flexors

PIC:

Persistent inward current

RNS:

Reactive nitrogen species

ROM:

Range of motion

ROS:

Reactive oxygen species

SS:

Static stretching

TMS:

Transcranial magnetic stimulation

TVR:

Tonic vibration reflex

References

Download references

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to acknowledge Dr. Shahab Alizadeh for his contributions to the composition of the figure.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

All authors have contributed to the conception, writing, and revisions to the manuscript. Dr. Behm primarily wrote the introduction and neural mechanisms, Dr. Trajano primarily wrote the motoneuron responses, and Drs. Blazevich and Kay primarily wrote the mechanical mechanisms sections.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to David G. Behm.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest with the contents of this manuscript.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Communicated by Michael Lindinger.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Behm, D.G., Kay, A.D., Trajano, G.S. et al. Mechanisms underlying performance impairments following prolonged static stretching without a comprehensive warm-up. Eur J Appl Physiol 121, 67–94 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-020-04538-8

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-020-04538-8

Keywords

  • Flexibility
  • Range of motion
  • Warm-up
  • Sport
  • Muscle morphology
  • Neural