Flexibility training, or stretching, is used in varying forms by practically every coach, athlete and physiotherapist on a regular basis. That is to say, a form of stretching is likely to take place at some point in every training or therapy session. In terms of its scientific basis, flexibility training is probably the least understood of fitness components. This article will discuss research findings and recommendations to explain why and how stretching should best be carried out.

What does it mean? Flexibility is defined as the static maximum range of motion (ROM) available about a joint. The largest limiting factor of static ROM is the structure of the joint itself. Thus, even after endless stretching exercise, there will be a limit as to how much movement is available. In addition, joint structures can vary between individuals, and this must be recognised when assessing flexibility standards in athletes. Most of the variability in static ROM is due to the elastic properties of the muscle and tendons attached across the joints. ‘Stiff’ muscles and tendons reduce the ROM while ‘compliant’ muscles and tendons increase ROM. It is these elastic properties that are altered after stretching exercises. When a muscle is held for some time under tension in a static stretch, the passive tension in the muscle declines, ie the muscle ‘gives’ a little. This is called a 'viscoelastic stretch relaxation response’. Passive tension is defined as the amount of external force required to lengthen the relaxed muscle. Obviously, the less external force required, the more pliable the muscle. This increased pliability is maintained for up to 90 minutes after the stretch (Moller et al, 1985). In the long term, regular static stretching will bring about permanent increase in static ROM, which is associated with a decrease in passive tension. Experimentally, this was shown by Toft et al (1989), who found a 36% decrease in passive tension of the plantar flexors after three weeks of regular calf stretches. The relationship between static ROM and passive tension has been further supported by McHugh et al (1998). These researchers demonstrated that maximum static hip flexion ROM was inversely correlated with the passive tension of the hamstrings during the mid-range of hip flexion. This suggests that the ease with which the muscle can be stretched through the mid- ROM is increased if the maximum static ROM is improved. The concept that an increased static ROM results in more pliant mechanical elastic properties of the muscle suggests that static stretching is beneficial to sports performance.

Flexibility and performance

Research into the effects of flexibility of stretch shortening cycle (SSC) movements (plyometrics) has shown that increased flexibility is related to augmented force production during SSC movements. In contrast, running studies have shown that flexibility has little performance effect, which is odd because running is a kind of SSC movement. For example, De Vries (1963) showed that while prestretching increased static ROM in sprinters, it had no effect on speed or energy cost during the 100-yard dash. Interestingly, it has been shown that stiffer leg muscles in endurance athletes may make them more economical in terms of oxygen consumption at sub-max speeds. The reason for these converse findings is probably related to the principle of specificity, which seems to underlie all sports training. The sprints and running studies above compared static ROM and stretches with performance, while the SSC research compared active stiffness with performance. Holding a maximum static stretch, and reducing passive tension, is a completely different mechanical action to those practised in actual sports, where joints are moving at fast speeds and muscles are contracting while they are changing length. Thus static ROM may not be an effective flexibility measurement to relate to performance. On the other hand, active stiffness is a measurement of the force required to stretch a previously contracted muscle, and is therefore more sports-specific. It seems logical that the ease with which a contracted muscle can change length will have an impact on the performance of an SSC movement, so active stiffness is a more appropriate parameter to measure flexibility for sports performance. Along the same lines, Iashvili (1983) found that active ROM and not passive ROM was more highly correlated with sports performance. In this instance, active ROM is defined as the ROM that athletes can produce by themselves, which will usually be less than the passive ROM, which is the maximum static ROM available when assisted manually or by gravity. For example, active ROM would be the height an athlete could lift his or her own leg up in front using the hip flexor muscles, whereas the passive ROM would be maximum height the leg could be lifted by a partner. Athletes must be able to generate the movement themselves, and this suggests that for improving sports performance it is active ROM that should be developed and not passive ROM. A sprinter must have enough active ROM in the hip flexors and hamstrings to comfortably achieve full knee lift and full hip extension at the toe-off point of the running gait to ensure a good technique and full stride length. Arguably, any further passive static ROM developed through passive static stretching will not provide any extra benefit, especially since the joint angular speeds during sprinting are very high.

How to improve active ROM

The research suggests that, to improve sports performance, active stiffness should be reduced and active ROM should be improved. This will be more specific than static stretches which reduce passive tension, since sports involve both movement and muscular contractions. Unfortunately, I have found no studies looking at training methods to reduce active stiffness, but one can assume that they will be similar to the methods used to improve active ROM. Alter (1996)suggests that the active ROM can be improved by any kind of active movement through the available active range of motion. For instance, weight training exercises have been shown to improve active ROM (Tunianyan & Dzhanya, 1984). Ballistic stretches will also develop the active ROM and are endorsed by sports coaches because they have the advantage of being executed at sports-specific speeds. But ballistic stretches must be performed with extreme caution, or they can cause muscle or tendon-strain injuries. If you use them, make sure you begin slowly and with a small ROM, building up speed and full ROM only towards the end. It seems that, as with endurance, strength and speed training, flexibility training follows the specificity principle. This means that if you want to improve your ability to actively move through a full ROM, then active and ballistic mobility exercises, and not static stretching, is the answer. This supports the use of exercises employed by swimmers and runners during their warm-up routines, such as shoulder circles, bum kicks and high-knee skips. These exercises actively take the joints through their available ROM and thus help to prepare them and the muscles to be more pliable during the subsequent activity. Modern coaching techniques advocate the use of dynamic active mobility exercises as essential components of a warm-up routine in the belief that this kind of exercise will be more beneficial to sports performance and less likely to cause injury than static passive stretches. Unfortunately there is little research to support this. Nevertheless, based on the fact that these exercises will be more specific than static stretches and that, through experience, I have found them to be very beneficial, I would strongly recommend them. Let’s take a specific example. To warm up the lower leg before any kind of running activity, I would first walk 20 yards on the toes with straight legs to warm up the calves, then walk on the heels 20 yards to warm up the dorsi flexors. I would then do 20 ankle flexion exercises with each leg. This involves holding one leg up so the ankle is free to move, first fully flexing the ankle bringing the toes right up and then fully extending the ankle pointing the toes away. Start slowly and then speed the movement up, so you flex and extend quickly throughout the full range of motion. This would be an open-chain exercise. The next exercise would be to walk with an exaggerated ankle flexion extension, pulling the toes up on heel contact and pushing right up on to the toes at toe-off. Then finally, do the same while skipping, ensuring the full ankle movement is performed at sports-specific speed. The same rationale can be applied to the knee, hip and shoulder, warming up each joint by taking it through the full range of motion, first slowly and then fast, using both open and closed kinetic chain exercises which are specific to your sport. If you perform these kinds of exercises regularly, you should find that, as well as providing an effective warm-up, they will improve your active ROM and specific mobility patterns during sport.

Injury and flexibility

The well-established general rule is

that insufficient ROM, or stiffness, will

increase muscle-strain risks. More

specifically, athletes in different sports

have varying flexibility profiles and

thus varying flexibility needs in order

to avoid injuries. Gleim & McHugh et

al (1997) review various studies

relating flexibility measures or

stretching habits to injury incidence.

Studies of football players show that

flexibility may be important for

preventing injuries. For example, one

study showed that those who stretched

regularly suffered fewer injuries, while

another showed that tighter players

suffered more groin-strain injuries

and a third showed a relationship

between tightness and knee pain.

These findings seem to confirm the

correlation between muscular

tightness and increased muscle strain

risks. Yet studies of endurance runners

have not shown the same results. For

instance, in one famous study by

Jacobs & Berson (1986), it was found

that those who stretched beforehand

were injured more often than nonstretchers.

Other running studies have

found no relationship whatsoever

between flexibility or stretching habits

and injury. On the other hand, one

study of sprinters found that 4 degrees

less hip flexion led to a greater

incidence of hamstring strain. The

2 SUCCESSFUL COACHING Dec 2003/Jan 2004 No 8

Dec 2003/Jan 2004 No 8 SUCCESSFUL COACHING 3

reason for these apparently

contradictory findings is the specific

nature of each sport. With endurance

running, the ankle, knee and hip joints

stay within the mid-range of motion

throughout the whole gait cycle and

therefore maximum static ROM will

have little effect. Sprinting and football

involve movements of much larger

ROM and so depend more heavily on

good flexibility.

There are other established

biomechanical relationships between

flexibility and injury. For example,

ankle ROM is inversely related to rear

foot pronation and internal tibia

rotation. In other words, tight calf

muscles are associated with greater

amounts of rear foot pronation and

lower leg internal rotation. In excess,

these two factors can lead to foot, lower

leg and knee problems. Poor flexibility

in the hip flexor muscles may lead to

an anterior pelvic tilt, where the pelvis

is tilted down to the front. This

increases the lumbar lordosis, which

is the sway in the lower back. This in

turn can lead to a tightening of the

lower-back muscles and predispose the

back to injury.

Similarly, tight pectoral muscles can

lead to a round-shouldered upper-back

posture called kyphosis. During

throwing and shoulder movements,

this forward alignment of the shoulder

can increase the risks of shoulder

impingement problems.

A flexibility/injury relationship also

exists for young adolescents. During the

pubertal growth spurt, the tendons and

muscles tighten dramatically as they lag

behind the rapid bone growth. For

young athletes this poor flexibility may

lead to injury problems, especially

tendonitis type injuries such as Osgood

Schlatters. Thus regular stretching is

essential for young athletes. Remember

it is biological age that counts, so

children in the same team or squad may

need to pay extra attention to flexibility

at different times.

Do not over do it!

As a general guide, when it comes to

preventing injury, one should make

sure that athletes have a normal ROM

in all the major muscle groups and

correct postural alignment in the back.

For instance, hamstring mobility

should allow for 90 degrees of straight

leg hip flexion. Any further ROM

should be developed only if analysis of

the sport’s movements suggests that

extra mobility is required. The obvious

example is gymnastics, where

contestants must perform movements

with extreme ROMs. A footballer who

developed the kinds of flexibility a

gymnast needs would be at greater risk

of injury since hyper mobile joints

become unstable. This relationship

has been shown in American football

players, with those who have overdeveloped

hamstring flexibility

suffering more from ACL strain. A

likely reason is that the flexible

hamstrings allow the knee to

hyperextend more readily.

So the general rule regarding the

relationship between flexibility and

injury is that a normal ROM in each

muscle group will protect against

injury. However, specific movements

in each sport that requires extra ROM

will need extra flexibility development

to guard against injury. This may mean

that an endurance runner’s hamstring

ROM may be less than a sprinter’s,

while a sprinter may not need such a

large ROM in the groin as a tennis

player, whose sport demands large

lateral lunging movements. Extreme

ROMs should only be developed out of

necessity, since they lead to higher

joint-injury risks, just as small ROMs

lead to higher muscle strain risks.

What type of stretches?

The job of the coach and therapist is to

know the normal ROM for each

muscle group and to ensure the athlete

achieves and maintains these

standards. Christopher Norris’s book

(see references) describes in detail how

to assess posture and flexibility in all

major muscles and should be used as

a guide. If any extra flexibility in

specific muscles for specific

movements is required, then this

should also be developed. To develop

flexibility, research suggests (see Alter,

1996) that static stretches should be

held for at least 20 seconds, possibly

up to 60 seconds, to gain a benefit. The

stretches should also be performed

regularly, ideally twice a day, every day.

Stretches should not be painful, and

should not cause the muscle to shake.

Instead, one should feel a mildintensity

stretch and maintain that

position. If the tension eases, taking

the stretch a little further and holding

the new position will help gains

in ROM.

Using partner-assisted stretches

and proprioceptive neuromuscular

facilitation (PNF) stretching will also

produce the same effect. PNF stretches

involve applying an isometric

contraction against the stretch to

invoke a greater relaxation response

and thus enable further ROM to be

reached. The protocol is for the partner

to take the stretch to the initial end

point and hold that position. After

about 20 seconds, the athlete opposes

the position with a strong 10-second

isometric contraction pushing against

the partner. The athlete then relaxes,

breathes out, and the stretching

muscle should relax, allowing the

partner to take it further. This is

repeated. Some research has shown

that PNF stretches are very effective,

although a study by Golhofer et al

(1998) casts doubt on this. These

researchers found that while there was

a relaxation response post-isometric

contraction, it only lasted for a very

short time, and so no real benefit was


Getting the mechanics right

Regardless of whether you choose

conventional or PNF stretches, by far

the most important factor for

stretching effectiveness is to choose an

exercise with the correct mechanics.

The purpose of static stretches is to

improve or maintain the ROM of a

particular muscle, and the mechanics

of the exercise must ensure that the

target muscle is being stretched


For example, a popular, if old

fashioned, way to stretch the

hamstrings is to perform a touch toes

stretch. However, the touch-toes

position requires lower-back flexion,

which leads to a change in pelvic

position, and so the effectiveness of the

stretch for the hamstrings is

compromised. The mechanically

correct way to isolate the hamstrings is

to place one foot slightly in front of the

other, leaning forward from the hips

and keeping the back arched.

Supporting your weight with your

hands on the rear leg, you should then

feel the stretch in the front leg. This

position ensures the back does not flex

and the pelvis remains tilted forward,

so the hamstrings are lengthened

optimally. Try the two different

positions for yourself and you should

feel a significant improvement in

hamstring stretch. You may even find

that by keeping your back in a strict

arch you may not need to lean forward

very far to achieve an effective

hamstring stretch.

The message here is that you must

ensure that any static stretching

exercise you perform allows the target

muscle to be lengthened effectively,

without being limited by other

structures. The mechanics of the

stretch should also ensure that the

athlete is stable and that there are no

undue stresses on any of the joints. For

example, the hurdles stretch places a

strain on the ligaments of the knee and

is no longer recommended. Similarly,

with the hamstring stretch discussed

above, it is important to support one’s

weight with the hands on the rear leg

so that the lower back is protected.

Leaning forward unsupported from a

standing position places a great strain

on it.

The bottom line

There is still much to be researched

about stretching methods before all the

definitive answers can be given.

However, it is probably fair to say that

some of us need to look again at certain

stretching techniques and ask why we

do them. In particular, static stretching

as part of a warm-up is very common,

and yet the research, and logic,

suggests that static stretches will do

little to help prevent injuries or

improve muscle function before an

activity. Instead, active mobility

exercises, those that take the muscles

dynamically through the full ROM,

starting slowly and building up to

sports-specific speeds, are more

appropriate, both pre-exercise and

generally to develop active ROM for

sports performance.

The role of static stretches is

separate from active flexibility

exercises. Rather than as part of a

warm-up, static stretches are necessary

to develop the correct maximum static

ROM that is needed to avoid musclestrain

injuries. Thus static stretches

should be used either after training,

when the muscles are warm, or in a

separate context. These stretches must

be effective, safe and stable in terms of

their mechanics.

As mentioned, a normal ROM in all

muscle groups, plus any sportsspecific

ROMs, should be developed or

maintained with static stretches

following the above guidelines. If

flexibility is well below normal, then

PNF stretches may be considered to

improve flexibility more quickly.

Some of you may not agree with my

conclusions about the role of the

different types of stretching. However,

I ask you to consider carefully the

specificity principle of training and

apply that to flexibility in the same way

as you would to strength. For instance,

no one would consider using only

isometric contractions to develop

strength in athletes. Instead, coaches

try to devise strength exercises that are

as specific as possible, both in terms of

speed and mechanics, to the sportsspecific


That said, why do so many people

use only static stretches at the

maximum ROM to develop flexibility

for sport, which involves active motion

through various ROMs depending on

the movements?

Raphael Brandon


1) Alter (1996). The Science of Flexibility.

Human Kinetics, Champaign: IL

2) Gleim and McHugh (1997). ‘Flexibility

and its effects on sports performance and

injury.’ Sports Medicine, 24(5): 289-299

3) Norris (1998). Flexibility: Principles and

Practice. Black, London

4 SUCCESSFUL COACHING Dec 2003/Jan 2004 No 8

Dynamic stretching exercises

The following are examples of

dynamic stretching and mobility

exercises, which could form part of the

warm-up programme in a training

session. Breathe easily whilst

performing all the exercises.

Recent research work (detailed in

Medicine and Science in Sport and

Exercise 33(3): 354-358 and Journal of

Strength and Conditioning Research

15(1): 98-101) suggests that the use of

dynamic stretches – slow controlled

movements through the full range of

motion rather than bouncy, jerky

movements – are the most appropriate

exercises for the warm-up.

The exercises

Neck mobility

Flexion/extension – Tuck your chin

into your chest, and then lift your chin

upward as far as possible – 6 to 10


Lateral flexion – Lower your left ear

toward your left shoulder and then

your right ear to your right shoulder –

6 to 10 repetitions.

Rotation – Turn your chin laterally

toward your left shoulder and then

rotate it toward your right shoulder –

6 to 10 repetitions.

Shoulder circles

Stand tall, feet slightly wider than

shoulder-width apart, knees slightly

bent. Raise your right shoulder towards

your right ear, take it backwards, down

and then up again to the ear in a

smooth action. Repeat with the other

shoulder – 6 to 10 repetitions.

Arm swings

Stand tall, feet slightly wider than

shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent

and keep the back straight at all times.

Overhead/down and back – Swing both

arms continuously to an overhead

position and then forward, down, and

backwards – 6 to 10 repetitions.

Side/front crossover – Swing both

arms out to your sides and then cross

them in front of your chest – 6 to 10


Side bends

Stand tall with good posture, feet

slightly wider than shoulder-width

apart, knees slightly bent, hands

resting on hips. Lift your trunk up and

away from your hips and bend

smoothly first to one side, then the

other, avoiding the tendency to lean

either forwards or backwards. Repeat

the whole sequence 16 times with a

slow rhythm, breathing out as you

bend to the side and in as you return to

the centre.

Dec 2003/Jan 2004 No 8 SUCCESSFUL COACHING 5

Hip circles and twists

Circles – With your hands on your hips

and feet spread wider than your

shoulders, make circles with your hips

in a clockwise direction for 10 to 12

repetitions. Then repeat in a counter

clockwise direction.

Twists – Extend your arms out to your

sides, and twist your torso and hips to

the left, shifting your weight on to the

left foot. Then twist your torso to the

right while shifting your weight to the

right foot. 10 to 12 reps on each side.

Half squat

Stand tall with good posture holding

your hands out in front of you for

balance. Now bend at the knees until

your thighs are parallel with the floor.

Keep your back long throughout the

movement, and look straight ahead.

Make sure that your knees always point

in the same direction as your toes.

Once at your lowest point, fully

straighten your legs to return to your

starting position. Repeat the exercise

16 times with a smooth, controlled

rhythm. Breathe in as you descend,

and out as you rise.

Leg swings

Flexion/extension – Stand sideways on

to the wall, weight on your left leg and

your right hand on the wall for balance,

swing your right leg forward and

backward – 10 to 12 repetitions on

each leg.

Cross-body flexion/abduction

Leaning slightly forward with both

hands on a wall and your weight on

your left leg, swing your right leg to the

left in front of your body, pointing your

toes upwards as your foot reaches its

furthest point of motion. Then swing

the right leg back to the right as far as

comfortable, again pointing your toes

up as your foot reaches its final point

of movement – 10 to 12 repetitions on

each leg.


Stand tall with both feet together.

Keeping the back straight lunge forward

with the right leg approx. 1 to 1. metres.

The right thigh should be parallel with

the ground and the right lower leg

vertical. Spring back to the starting

position. Repeat with the left leg – 12 to

16 repetitions on each leg.

Ankle bounce

Double-leg bounce – Leaning forward

with your hands on the wall and your

weight on your toes, raise and lower

both heels rapidly (bounce). Each time,

lift your heels one to two inches from

the ground while maintaining ground

contact with the balls of your feet. 12 to

16 repetitions.

Single-leg bounce – Leaning forward

with your hands on a wall and all your

weight on your left foot raise the right

knee forward while pushing the left

heel towards the ground. Then lower

the right foot to the floor while raising

the left heel one or two inches. Repeat

in a rapid, bouncy fashion. 12 to 16

repetitions on each leg.


The dynamic exercises that you

incorporate into your warm-up

programme should be appropriate to

the movements you would experience

in your sport/event.

Brian Mackenzie

Most coaches, athletes and sports

medicine personnel use stretching

methods as part of the training routine

for athletes. Many would agree that it

forms an integral part of training and

preparation. However, most of the

theoretical and practical factors in

stretching are often incorrectly

applied. The purpose of this article is

primarily to provide an overview on

the theoretical basis of stretching


What is flexibility?

De Vries defines it as the range of

motion available in a joint, such as the

hip, or series of joints such as the

spine. This encompassing definition

takes into account a number of

important aspects about flexibility.

That is, it deals with a joint or series of

joints used to produce a particular

movement, and it considers that

flexibility is both static and dynamic in


It is important to highlight some

points regarding flexibility. First,

flexibility is joint specific. That is, you

cannot say someone is flexible just

because they can touch their toes. The

same person may not even be able to

reach around and scratch the small of

his/her back because their shoulder

has poor flexibility. Second, flexibility

is sport specific. You would not expect

a front row rugby forward to have the

same flexibility as an Olympic

gymnast, because it is not required for

his sport. In fact, in a contact sport like

rugby, being that flexible would be

detrimental to his body.

Components of flexibility

Flexibility has two important

components: static and dynamic


1. Static flexibility describes range of

motion without a consideration for

speed of movement. This is the

maximum range a muscle can

achieve with an external force such as

gravity or manual assistance. For

example, holding a hamstring stretch

at an end-of-range position.

2. Dynamic flexibility describes the

use of the desired range of motion at

a desired velocity (usually quickly).

Dynamic flexibility is the range

athletes can produce themselves. For

example, a javelin thrower or baseball

pitcher needs a lot of shoulder

rotational flexibility, but they also

need to be able to produce it at rapid

speeds of movement.

Here are some useful points:

. Good static flexibility is a necessary

pre-requisite for good dynamic

flexibility; however, having good

static flexibility does not in itself

ensure good dynamic flexibility.

. Dynamic flexibility is vitally

important in those high-velocity

movement sports such as sprinting,

kicking and gymnastics.

. Dynamic flexibility is limited by

the ability of the tissues to lengthen

quickly, and the inhibition of what is

called the ‘stretch reflex’, which if

present will act to limit the range of

motion (more about this later).

A physiotherapist’s view on flexibility

6 SUCCESSFUL COACHING Dec 2003/Jan 2004 No 8

Why is flexibility important?

Good flexibility allows the joints to

improve their range of motion. For

example, flexibility in the shoulder

musculature allows a swimmer to ‘glide’

the arm through the water using

shoulder elevation. This allows the

joints to easily accommodate the desired

joint angles without undue stress on the

tissues around them. It therefore is

essential for injury prevention.

Stretching also forms an integral part

of rehabilitation programmes following

injury. For example, it is accepted that a

muscle tear will heal with scar tissue.

This scar tissue tends to be functionally

shorter and have more resistance to

stretch than normal healthy muscle

tissue. Therefore stretching is used at

an appropriate time in the healing

process to assist in lengthening this

contracted scar tissue.

Good flexibility improves posture

and ergonomics. Our bodies have a

tendency to allow certain muscles to

tighten up which will affect our

posture. Vladimir Janda, a Czech

rehabilitation specialist, describes a

group of muscles in the body that

universally show a tendency towards

tightness and also being overactive in

movements. Some of these include the

hamstrings, rectus femoris, TFI,

piriformis, adductors, gastrocnemius

and quadratus lumborum. These

muscles are often implicated in

postural syndromes causing

musculoskeletal pain.

Flexibility, because it allows good

range of motion, may improve motor

performance and skill execution. Think

of a sprinter who needs flexibility in the

hip flexors to allow good hip extension

at toe-off, and good hip extensor

flexibility to allow necessary knee drive

in the leg recovery phase of sprinting.

Skill execution and reduced risk of

injury will be greatly enhanced if the

body has the flexibility necessary for

that particular sport. There is also an

argument that stretching may reduce

post-exercise muscle soreness, or

delayed onset of muscle soreness

(DOMS), by reducing muscle spasm

associated with exercise.

Relative flexibility

Shirley Sahrmann, an American

physiotherapist, uses the term ‘relative

flexibility’ to describe how the body

achieves a particular movement using

the relative flexibility available at a

series of joints. She believes that in

order for the body to achieve a

particular range of motion, it will

move through the point of least

resistance, or area of greatest relative


A good example is to think of a

rower at the bottom of the catch

position. In this position the rower

must have his hands (and the oar) past

his feet in order to generate the drive

necessary to transfer force from his

body to the oar. If for some reason the

rower has excessively tight hips and

can’t bend up (or flex) the hips (usually

due to gluteal tightness), his body will

find somewhere else to move to

compensate for that lack of hip

flexibility. More often than not, this

rower will flex the lumbar and

thoracic spines to make up for the lack

of hip flexion. That is, the back has

more ‘relative flexibility’, and therefore

contributes to the overall range of

motion. In this case however, the

back will exhibit movement that is

more than ideal, possibly leading

to lumbar and thoracic dysfunction

and pain.

The concept of relative flexibility is

vital when understanding movement

dysfunction in athletes. It is imperative

that joint movements are not looked at

in isolation, for other more distant

joints will influence that movement.

Try this simple test to highlight this

point. Sit on a chair with your upper

backed slumped (that is, assume a

poor posture). Now, maintaining this

position, try to elevate both arms above

your head. Now straighten yourself up

(assume a good posture) and try it

again. Unless you have gross shoulder

dysfunction, you will be able to elevate

more with a straight back than a curved

one. By assuming a slumped position,

you prevent the upper back (thoracic

spine) from extending. This extension

of the upper back is necessary for

full range elevation. Without

extension, it is difficult for the shoulder

to fully elevate.

If you do this for long enough

(months to years) eventually the lack of

movement will attempt to be taken up

elsewhere (such as the lower back, or

the shoulder itself). This may

eventually lead to breakdown of these

joints due to the excessive movement

they may eventually demonstrate.

What factors limit flexibility?

Flexibility can be limited by what

are called ‘active’ or ‘contractile’

and ‘passive’ or ‘non-contractile’


Muscle contraction is one of these

‘active/contractile’ restraints. Flexibility

can be limited by the voluntary and

reflex control that a muscle exhibits

while undergoing a stretch, in particular

a rapid stretch that activates the ‘stretch

reflex’. As a muscle is rapidly stretched,

a receptor known as a ‘spindle’ causes

the muscle to reflexively contract to

prevent any further stretch. If left

unchecked, the stretch reflex would

work to prevent elongation while the

muscle was being stretched. A benefit

of ballistic or fast stretching is that the

nervous system learns to accommodate

by delaying the stretch reflex until closer

to end of range of movement.

Furthermore, a resting muscle does

not always mean that it is ‘resting’.

Muscles usually exist with a certain

degree of muscle ‘tone’. An increase

in tone will increase the inherent

stiffness in muscles. If you are

scientifically minded, this describes

the way actin and myosin remains

bound and thus resists passive

stretching of the muscle. The actin

and myosin stay bound because of a

constant low-level discharge in the

nerves supplying that muscle. With

actin and myosin unbound, a muscle

should (in theory) be able to stretch to

150 per cent of its original length.

‘Passive/non-contractile’ restraints

in the form of connective tissues will

also limit flexibility. The passive

restraints include the connective

tissues within and around muscle

tissue (epimysium, perimysium and

endomysium), tendons and fascial

sheaths (deep and superficial fascia).

The important microscopic structure

to consider in passive tissues is

collagen. The way collagen behaves

with stretching will be discussed


Other passive restraints include the

alignment of joint surfaces. An

example of this is the olecranon of the

elbow in the olecranon fossa that will

limit full extension (straightening) of

the elbow. Other joint constraints

include capsules and ligaments. The

joint capsule/ligament complex of the

hip joint is important in limiting

rotation of the hip.

Dec 2003/Jan 2004 No 8 SUCCESSFUL COACHING 7

The nerves passing through the

limbs can also limit flexibility. As a

limb is taken through a full movement,

the ropey nerve tracts also become

elongated and become compressed.

The nerve endings and receptors in the

nerves trigger a reflex response that

causes the muscle to increase its

resistance to stretch.

In addition to the points mentioned

above, there are a number of other

factors that influence flexibility:

. An older muscle has more

inherent stiffness due to the

morphological changes in the muscle

and collagen in the connective


. A muscle that has been

immobilised with a cast will

demonstrate increase in stiffness

over time (longer than four weeks).

. Excessive training causes more

cross linking to occur between

collagen fibres and therefore

increases stiffness.

. Excessive repeated muscle

contractions cause high volumes of

neural discharge. A muscle can

remain in a state of high resting tone

following training sessions.

. Increase in temperature causes a

decrease in muscle stiffness. This

can be environmental temperature or

temperature increases induced by

friction of muscle contraction. We

therefore tend to be less stiff around

two o’clock in the afternoon.

. Finally, an increase in

intramuscular fluid (fluid in the

muscle cell) can increase stiffness

due to a splinting effect. This is the

proposed reason why use of creatine

monohydrate tends to make muscles

feel stiffer.

More about collagen

I mentioned earlier that the connective

tissues in and around muscle are

considered to be ‘passive’ or ‘noncontractile’.

The principal structure in

these tissues we need to consider is

collagen. A key term used in physics

and biomechanics to describe the way

collagen behaves is ‘viscoelasticity’.

Viscoelastic tissues are made up of

viscous and elastic properties. A

viscous tissue will deform and stay

deformed permanently – if you pull on

a piece of play dough, for instance, it

will keep that shape. An elastic tissue

will return to its original length when

the force is removed. For example,

pulling on a rubber band and letting go

– the band snaps back to its original


Viscoelasticity describes a property

of tissues (collagen being one of those

tissues) whereby deformation/

lengthening of a tissue is sustained

and the recovery is slow and imperfect

when the deforming force has been

removed. That is, it will stretch, then

stay stretched for a while before slowly

returning to its original length.

Viscoelasticity tells us a number of

practical things about stretching the

connective tissues in muscle:

. Studies on the cyclic loading of

tissues suggest that most

deformation occurs in the first

stretch, and after four stretches there

is little change in ultimate length.

Therefore there is no extra benefit

from stretching a muscle 10 times in

one session.

. It takes 12-18 seconds to reach

stress relaxation, so there is no need

to hold a stretch for longer than 20


. Greater peak tensions and more

energy are absorbed the faster the

rate of stretch. This means that a

tissue will generate greater tension if

the rate of stretch is faster and

therefore not achieve the same

length as a tissue undergoing a slow

stretch. That is, do passive stretches


. Once elongated, length changes

are not rapidly reversible due to the

viscous nature of the tissue.

However, deformations are not

permanent because the elastic

properties will eventually bring the

tissue back to its original length.

Lasting changes come from adaptive

remodelling of the connective

tissues, not mechanical

deformation. One study in South

Africa showed that stretching every

four hours was the most effective

way to achieve elongation in a

muscle. This may suggest that the

temporary change in length

following a stretch may start to

regress after four hours (Grace

Hughes, unpublished study).

How stretching happens

A number of physical properties of

viscoelastic tissues help describe how

these tissues elongate with stretching.

These properties are creep, load

relaxation and hysteresis.

Creep describes the ability of a tissue

to elongate over time when a constant

load is applied to it. For example, if we

applied 10kg of force to our leg in order

to stretch our hamstring, we might

initially get our leg to 90 degrees

before our tissues prevented further

movement. If we sustained that load,

we would find that our leg would

gradually ‘creep’ a few degrees over a

period of time.

Load relaxation describes how less

force is required to maintain a tissue at

a set length over time. Using the above

example again, if we applied 10kg of

force to get our leg to 90 degrees, we

would find that less force would be

needed (9, 8, 7kg etc) to keep it at 90


Hysteresis describes the amount of

lengthening a tissue will maintain after

a cycle of stretching (deformation) and

then relaxation. Again, let’s assume

that if we gained an extra 10 degrees of

range in hamstrings after the stretches

described above, we would maintain

that range for some time after the load

was removed.

Neuromuscular considerations

Certain neuromuscular mechanisms

acting on muscles influence ‘tension’

and have important implications for

the value of stretching. These

mechanisms include the stretch reflex,

autogenic inhibition and reciprocal


. The stretch reflex is governed by a

long thin receptor in muscles called a

‘muscle spindle’. The spindle’s role is

to let our feedback systems know

about muscle length and the rate of

muscle lengthening. When a muscle

is rapidly stretched, the spindle (via a

loop of nerves) triggers a reflex

contraction of the muscle

undergoing stretch. A high-speed

stretch will therefore trigger the

spindle and a reflex contraction of the

muscle will limit its ability to stretch.

. The spindle is also responsible for

the phenomenon known as

reciprocal inhibition. What happens

here is that if a muscle contracts, the

opposite or antagonistic muscle will

relax to allow the movement to occur

without resistance. For example, if

the quadriceps are contracted, the

hamstrings should relax to allow

8 SUCCESSFUL COACHING Dec 2003/Jan 2004 No 8

the knee to straighten.

. The Golgi tendon organ (GTO) is

the important receptor to consider in

‘autogenic inhibition’. The role of the

GTO is to provide information on

tension increases in muscles. This

tension can come from contraction

or stretch. The GTO connects with a

small nerve cell in the spinal cord

that inhibits or relaxes the muscle

where the GTO is found. The GTO

will trigger if a stretch is sustained

(for longer than six seconds) or if the

muscle contracts forcefully.

The way these mechanisms are

utilised will be discussed below under

the heading of proprioceptive

neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) type


The theory behind different

stretching types


Held static stretches are done so that

the joints are placed in the outer limits

of the available range and then

subjected to a continuous passive

stretch (gravity, weights, manual). One

obvious benefit is that the chance of

injury is minimal. This type of

stretching is ideal to stretch the

connective tissue/non-contractile

elements since it makes use of the

viscoelastic properties to cause

elongation of the tissue. Furthermore,

it makes use of autogenic inhibition to

trigger a relaxation in the muscle

(remember the six-second rule).


(1) Dynamic range of motion

This describes a type of stretch

whereby a muscle is taken through a

full, slow and large amplitude

movement. The opposing muscles

are used to produce the force in this

type of stretching. This type of

stretching is done under control and

is not jerky in nature.

(2) Ballistic

The type that is done fast and rapidly

and through large ranges of motion.

An example is leg swings to stretch

the hamstrings.

The benefit of this type of

stretching is that it is sport specific to

ballistic sports and it allows

integration of the ‘stretch reflex’ if

done quite often over a period of

time. As the neuromuscular system

adapts to this stretching, the stretch

reflex will minimise its contribution

to limiting muscle range.

(3) Bouncing

Similar to ballistic, but it is

performed in small oscillations at the

end of range. The dangers of (2) and

(3) are that they can lead to significant

muscle soreness caused by the rapid

lengthening of the muscle. This in

itself initiates the stretch reflex and

increases muscle tension.

Furthermore, it fails to provide

adequate time for the tissues to adapt

to the stretch.

PNF (Proprioceptive neuromuscular


PNF uses the concept that muscle

relaxation is fundamental to

elongation of muscle tissue. In theory,

it is performed in a way that used the

proprioceptive abilities of the GTO and

muscle spindle to relax or inhibit the

muscle in order to gain a more

effective stretch. It does so using

autogenic inhibition and reciprocal


PNF stretching exists in a number

of different forms, but the only ones

discussed here will be the contract

relax (CR), hold-relax (HR) and

contract relax and antagonist

contraction (CRAC) methods.

. Contract relax (CR)

The muscle to be stretched is

passively taken to end of range.

Maximum contraction of the muscle

to be stretched is performed against

resistance (usually another person).

With this form of contraction, the

muscle is allowed to shorten during

an isotonic contraction. This is

continued for at least six seconds

(which allows autogenic inhibition to

occur). The muscle is then relaxed

and taken to a new range and held for

about 20 seconds. This can be

repeated 3-4 times.

. Hold relax (HR)

Very similar to contract relax as

above, but the contraction type is

static/isometric. The muscle to be

stretched is passively taken to end of

range. Maximum contraction of the

muscle to be stretched is performed

against resistance (usually another

person). With this form of

contraction, the muscle does not

shorten during its isometric

contraction. This is continued for at

least six seconds (allowing autogenic

inhibition to occur). The muscle is

then relaxed and taken to a new range

and held for about 20 seconds. This

can be repeated 3-4 times.

. Contract relax antagonist

contraction (CRAC)

The first part of this stretch is similar

to the CR method above; however,

when the muscle to be stretched is

relaxed after its six second

contraction, the opposite or

antagonist muscle is contracted for at

least six seconds (allowing reciprocal

inhibition to occur). The antagonist is

then relaxed and the stretched

muscle is taken to a new range.

Final thought

I have attempted to give a Readers

Digest version of the background to the

theory of stretching. Some of the

theory is may be difficult to grasp, and

may challenge your existing

preconceived ideas of stretching.

Chris Mallac


1. Moore M & Kukulka CG (1991)

‘Depression of Hoffmann reflexes

following voluntary contraction and

implications for proprioceptive

neuromuscular facilitation therapy.’

Physical Therapy 71(4): 321-333

2. Wilkinson A (1992) ‘Stretching the

truth: a review of the literature.’ The

Australian Journal of Physiotherapy

38(4): 283-287

3. Zachazewski JE (1990) ‘Flexibility for

Sports’ in B Sanders (Ed), Sports Physical

Therapy (pp 201- 238). Norwalk, Conn:

Appleton & Lange

4. Taylor DC et al (1990) ‘Viscoelastic

properties of muscle-tendon units. The

biomechanical effects of stretching.’ The

American Journal of Sports Medicine.

18(3): 300-309

5. Herbert R (1988) ‘The passive

mechanical properties of muscle and

their adaptations to altered patterns of

use.’ The Australian Journal of

Physiotherapy 34(2): 141-149

The following are examples of general

static stretching and mobility exercises,

which could form part of the cooldown

programme at the end of a

training session. In all exercises

breathe easily whilst performing them

and hold the static stretches for 20 to

30 seconds.

The exercises

Chest stretch

Stand tall, feet slightly wider than

shoulder-width apart, knees relaxed

and slightly bent. Hold your arms out

to the side, parallel with the ground

and the palms of the hand facing

forward. Stretch the arms back as far

as possible. You should feel the stretch

across your chest.

Biceps stretch

Stand tall, feet slightly wider than

shoulder-width apart, knees relaxed

and slightly bent. Hold you arms out to

the side, parallel with the ground and

the palms of the hand. Facing forward,

rotate the hands so the palms face to

the rear. Stretch the arms back as far as

possible. You should feel the stretch

across your chest and in the biceps.

Upper back stretch

Stand tall, feet slightly wider than

shoulder-width apart, knees relaxed

and slightly bent. Interlock your

fingers and push your hands as far

away from your chest as possible,

allowing your upper back to relax. You

should feel the stretch between your

shoulder blades.

Shoulder stretch

Stand tall, feet slightly wider than

shoulder-width apart, knees relaxed

and slightly bent. Place your right arm,

parallel with the ground across the

front of your chest. Bend the left arm

up and use the left forearm to ease the

right arm closer to your chest. You will

feel the stretch in the shoulder. Repeat

with the other arm.

Shoulder and triceps stretch

Stand tall, feet slightly wider than

shoulder-width apart, knees relaxed

and slightly bent. Place both hands

above your head and then slide both of

your hands down the middle of your

spine. You will feel the stretch in the

shoulders and the triceps.

Side bends

Stand tall, feet slightly wider than

shoulder-width apart, knees relaxed

and slightly bent, hands resting on the

hips. Bend slowly to one side, come

back to the vertical position and then

bend to the other side. Do not lean

forwards or backwards.

Abdominal and lower back muscles

Lie face down on the ground. Lift your

body off the ground so that you are

supported only by your forearms and

toes. The elbows should be on the

ground and should be almost directly

below your shoulders. Your forearms

and hands should be resting on the

ground, pointed straight ahead, toes and

feet should be shoulder width apart and

your head in line with your spine.

Starting Position

1. Contract your gluteus (bum)

muscles gently. Hold for ten seconds

2. Lift your right arm off the ground,

straighten it and point it straight

ahead, holding it in the air for 10


3. Return to the starting position

4. Lift your left arm off the ground,

straighten it and point it straight

ahead, holding it in the air for 10


5. Return to starting position

6. Lift your right leg off the ground

and hold it there for ten seconds

(keep back straight)

7. Return to starting position

8. Lift your left leg off the ground and

hold it there for ten seconds (keep

back straight)

9. Return to starting position

10. Lift your right arm and left leg

simultaneously and hold them in

position for ten seconds

11. Return to starting position

12. Lift your left arm and right leg

simultaneously and hold them in

position for ten seconds

13. Return to the starting position

Hamstring stretch

Sit on the ground with both legs

straight out in front of you. Bend the

left leg and place the sole of the left foot

alongside the knee of the right leg.

Allow the left leg to lie relaxed on the

ground. Bend forward keeping the

back straight. You will feel the stretch

in the hamstring of the right leg.

Repeat with the other leg.

Calf stretch

Stand tall with one leg in front of the

other, hands flat and at shoulder

height against a wall. Ease your back

leg further away from the wall,

keeping it straight and press the heel

firmly into the floor. Keep your hips

facing the wall and the rear leg and

spine in a straight line. You will feel

the stretch in the calf of the rear leg.

Repeat with the other leg.

Hip and thigh stretch

Stand tall with your feet approximately

two shoulder widths apart. Turn the

feet and face to the right. Bend the

right leg so that the right thigh is

parallel with the ground and the right

lower leg is vertical. Gradually lower

the body. Keep your back straight and

use the arms to balance. You will feel

the stretch along the front of the left

thigh and along the hamstrings of the

right leg. Repeat by turning and facing

to the left.

Adductor stretch

Stand tall with your feet approximately

two shoulder widths apart. Bend the

right leg and lower the body. Keep your

back straight and use the arms to

balance. You will feel the stretch in the

left leg adductor. Repeat with the

left leg.

Groin stretch

Sit with tall posture. Ease both of your

feet up towards your body and place

the soles of your feet together, allowing

your knees to come up and out to the

side. Resting your hands on your lower

legs or ankles and ease both knees

towards the ground. You will feel the

stretch along the inside of your thighs

and groin.

Front of trunk stretch

Lie face down on the floor, fully

outstretched. Bring your hands to the

sides of your shoulders and ease your

chest off the floor, keeping your hips

firmly pressed into the ground. You

will feel the stretch in the front of

the trunk.

Static stretching exercises

Dec 2003/Jan 2004 No 8 SUCCESSFUL COACHING 9

10 SUCCESSFUL COACHING Dec 2003/Jan 2004 No 8

Iliotibial band stretch

Sitting tall with legs stretched out in

front of you, bend the right knee and

place the right foot on the ground to

the left side of the left knee. Turn your

shoulders so that you are facing to the

right. Using your left arm against your

right knee ease yourself further round.

Use your right arm on the floor for

support. You will feel the stretch along

the length of the spine and in the

muscles around the right hip.

Quadriceps stretch

Lie face down on the floor, resting your

forehead on your right hand. Press your

hips firmly into the floor and bring your

left foot up towards your buttocks. Take

hold of the left foot with the left hand

and ease the foot closer to your buttocks.

Repeat with the right leg. You will feel

the stretch along the front of the thigh.


These stretches must be effective, safe

and stable in terms of their mechanics

and used to ensure a normal range of

motion in all muscle groups plus any

sport event specific range of motions.

The aim is to relax the muscles and

facilitate an improvement in

maximum range of motion.

Brian Mackenzie

Frequently asked questions about stretching

Stretching is overwhelmingly

recommended, even prescribed, by

sports medicine professionals and is

widely practised by athletes in almost

every sport. It seems to be one of those

common sense things to do. But there

are as many unanswered questions

about stretching, as there are scientific

facts to support it.

A review of stretching research

conducted by Ian Shrier and Kav Gossal,

reported in The Physician and Sports

Medicine, revealed that the results of

many of the studies on stretching are

contradictory, inconclusive, or not

necessarily applicable to humans.

Nevertheless, Shrier, Gossal,

Michael Alter MS, author of Sport

Stretch, and Robert Anderson, author

of Stretching, have compiled enough

data to answer many of the questions

frequently asked by serious athletes

and exercisers. Here are some of those

questions and answers.

Does stretching reduce injuries?

‘New evidence,’ say Shrier and Gossal,

‘suggests that stretching immediately

before exercise does not prevent

overuse or acute injuries.’ They add that

continuous stretching during the day

and conducted over a period of time

may promote muscle growth which, in

turn, could reduce the risk of injury.

Perhaps as significant as the injury

prevention information are the data

that point toward stretching as a means

of increasing muscle size and strength.

Does stretching affect


Yes. There is conclusive evidence

regarding stretching and flexibility.

Loss of flexibility can be prevented and

at least partially restored by stretching.

However, that evidence is more

compelling for a long-term stretching

programme than for shorter periods of

time. Stretching to increase flexibility

minutes prior to an event may be

possible, but a stretching programme

over a period of months can lead to a

sustained increase in range of motion.

Can stretching improve


Yes, if the stretches are designed to be

sport specific. One study showed that

an increase in the temperature of the

vastus lateralis (a muscle in the upper

leg) achieved by stretching resulted in

an increase in vertical jump and an

increase in maximal cycling power.

However, the study did not investigate

whether or not the increase in

temperature could have been achieved

by other warm-up methods. Another

study showed that a 10-week static

stretching programme resulted in

improved performance in tests

involving speed, strength, power, or

muscle endurance.

Additional research has shown

benefits in throwing a baseball and

serving a tennis ball following a

stretching programme that improved

shoulder flexibility.

What is the difference between

static and dynamic stretching?

Static stretching requires that the

muscle be stretched to a point of

resistance and held for a period of time.

Dynamic or ballistic stretching involves

repetitive bouncing, rebounding or

rhythmic motions and is generally

thought to be more dangerous and less

effective than static stretching. However,

ballistic stretching is used by some

physical therapists and athletic trainers

to simulate the movements of

certain sports .

What is PNF stretching?

PNF, or proprioceptive neuromuscular

facilitation, uses alternating contraction

and relaxation movements that are

supervised and controlled by a trainer

or therapist. PNF is an alternative

strategy for increasing range of motion.

How long should a stretch be


One 15 to 30 second stretch per muscle

group is sufficient for most people, but

some exercisers require longer

stretches as well as more repetitions.

How many times should the

same stretch be performed

during one session?

As mentioned earlier, some research

suggests that one stretch per muscle

group is sufficient. However, many

professionals recommend two or three

repetitions for each 10-second stretch,

or one repetition of 30 seconds. The

rationale for multiple stretches is that

connective tissue responds better to

low-force, long-duration stretching

than higher-force, short-duration


Are there any benefits in

holding stretches longer than

30 seconds?

There is no evidence that this is

the case.

Should stretches be held for

the same length of time for

each muscle group?

No. Because the stretching properties

vary from muscle group to muscle

group, the optimal duration of a stretch

and the frequency of stretching may

also vary from person to person. Each

athlete must determine the length of

the hold that is most effective.

Dec 2003/Jan 2004 No 8 SUCCESSFUL COACHING 11

What is the stretch reflex?

A stretch reflex occurs when a muscle

is first stretched to an extreme. At that

point, a nerve impulse signals the

muscle to contract. It is a protective

mechanism that the body uses to

protect muscle tissues from tearing.

Why do some exercise

scientists recommend

stretching after a workout?

‘When the temperature of muscles is

higher than normal, stiffness

decreases and extensibility increases,’

says Alter. ‘Athletes who want to

maintain or enhance their flexibility

can partially achieve that goal by

stretching when their body

temperature has been elevated,

making it safer and more productive

than when at a normal level.

Lyle J Micheli MD says that

stretching for five minutes after

exercise prevents muscles from

tightening too quickly. He suggests

that athletes go through an abbreviated

version of the stretches performed

before an activity.

Should stretching exercises be

the same for healthy athletes

and those recovering from


No. Shrier and Gossal warn that

injuries affect the stretching properties

of muscles. Injured athletes may

require stretches to be held longer to

increase range of motion.

Does the application of ice or

heat have an effect on


Warming up a muscle before stretch

or using ice during static and ballistic

stretches can increase the range of

motion, but neither will prevent an

injury. Exposure to increased or

decreased temperature before or

during PNF stretches has no effect.

The mechanism by which ice and heat

affect stretching is not clear, but both

may have a pain-relieving effect that

allows greater range of motion.

Does it help to warm up first

and then do stretching


Generally, those who use an active

warm-up prior to stretching get greater

range of motion than those who only

stretch. But any benefits in terms of

injury prevention are more likely to

come from warming up, not because of

stretching. Shrier and Gossal say that if

range of motion is the goal, stretches

are helpful. If injury prevention is the

goal, athletes should drop the

stretching before exercise and increase

the amount of time warming up. But

the ‘warming up’ concept presents even

more confusion because there is no

universal definition of the term.


There appear to be more benefits from

stretching than disadvantages, but the

picture is not as clear as most

coaches/athletes would like. The

research suggests that stretching

programmes should be individualised

according to the athlete’s physical

make-up and level of conditioning.

Stretching routines should also be

designed to:

. maintain or improve range of


. be free of pain

. recover from injuries that restrict


. achieve sport-specific goals.

If injuries are prevented along the way,

consider it a bonus.

Anderson brings the common

sense approach back to stretching.

‘Good stretching is knowing your body.

It has nothing to do with how far you

can move a particular part. The

feelings you get when you stretch are a

good gauge. The right feeling is when

you can perform a stretch but it doesn’t

hurt. Do not worry if you can not

stretch as far as someone else, some

people just don’t have the body to be as

flexible as others.’

This article first appeared in the US

publication Georgia Tech Sports

Medicine & Performance Newsletter

Dynamic versus passive stretches

Dynamic and static stretches have very

different effects, according to a new

study. Researchers measured the effects

of passive static and passive dynamic

stretching on two biomechanical

properties of the ankle joint – muscle

stiffness and force relaxation.

Muscle stiffness refers to the ratio

between the change in muscle

resistance and the change in muscle

length. The more the muscle is

stretched, the more resistance to the

stretch is produced. But the lower the

ratio, ie the less the stiffness, the easier

it is to move through the range of


Muscle stiffness is believed to be

directly related to muscle injury risk,

and so it is important to reduce muscle

stiffness as part of a warm-up.

Force relaxation refers to the

decrease in peak force produced by the

muscle when it is stretched to the end

of its range. After holding a stretch for

some time the peak force relaxes,

which helps the muscle move further.

Force relaxation has also been related

to injury risks and the maximum range

of motion in a muscle.

The study involved 22 active and

healthy subjects. A Kin Corn isokinetic

dynamometer was used to stretch each

subject’s ankle joint. The joint was

stretched into dorsiflexion, stretching

the calf muscle. The Kin Corn machine

also measured the forces in the joint

that resulted from the stretching.

Four different conditions of

stretching were tested:

. 1 x 60 second hold

. 2 x 30 seconds

. 4 x 15 seconds

. passive continuous motion for 60


To control the test conditions, subjects

were instructed not to actively increase

the stretch themselves. The results

were as follows:

. Muscle stiffness decreased

significantly only in the final passive

motion condition and not in any of

the static stretch conditions.

. There was a 16% decrease

throughout the entire range of

motion after 60 seconds of dynamic


. Peak force relaxation decreased in

all four conditions – by 10% for the

final dynamic motion condition and

12 SUCCESSFUL COACHING Dec 2003/Jan 2004 No 8

by 20% for all static stretching


Thus it seems that there are clear

differences in the effects of dynamic

and static stretches. Only dynamic

movement throughout the range of

motion resulted in any reduction in

muscle stiffness, an important factor

in reducing injury risks. However the

static stretches produced the greatest

peak force relaxation effect.

This suggests that dynamic

stretches, slow controlled movements

through the full range of motion are

the most appropriate exercises for

warming up. By contrast, static

stretches are more appropriate at the

end of a workout to help relax the

muscles and facilitate an improvement

in maximum range of motion.

Raphael Brandon


1) Medicine & Science in Sport and

Exercise, 33(3): 354-358

Static flexibility tests

Testing and measurement are the

means of collecting information upon

which subsequent performance

evaluations and decisions are made

but in the analysis we need to bear in

mind the factors that may influence

the results.

Here we will look at a total of five

tests: hip and trunk, shoulder and

wrist, trunk and neck, shoulder

and ankle.

Test 1 – hip and trunk

Starting position

. Sit on the floor with the back and

head against a wall, legs fully

extended with the bottom of the

feet against a sit-and-reach box.

. Place the hands on top of each

other, stretching the arms forward

while keeping the head and back

against the wall.

. Measure the distance from the

fingertips to the box edge with a

ruler. This becomes zero or

starting point.


. Slowly bend and reach forward as

far as possible sliding the fingers

along the ruler.

. Hold the final position for two


. Record the distance reached to the

nearest 1/10 of an inch.

Repeat the test three times and note

the best distance.

Performance Rating

Table adapted from Johnson BL &

Nelson JK Practical Measurements for

Evaluation in PE (4th ed 1986).

Age <36

Age 36 to 49

Test 2 - Shoulder and Wrist

Starting position

Lay prone on the floor with the arms

fully extended holding a stick


. Raise the stick as high as possible,

keeping the nose on the ground.

. Measure the vertical distance the

stick rises from the floor to the

nearest 1/2 inch.

. Repeat the test 3 times and record

the best distance.

. Measure the arm length from the

acromial extremity to the tip of the

longest finger.

. Subtract the best score from the

arm length.

Performance Rating

Table adapted from Johnson BL &

Nelson JK Practical Measurements for

Evaluation in PE (4th ed 1986).

Test 3 - Trunk and neck

Starting position

. Lay prone on the floor with hands

clasped at the side of the head.


. Raise the trunk as high as possible

whilst keeping the hips in contact

with the ground.

. An assistant can hold the feet


. Record the vertical distance, to the

nearest 1/4 of an inch, from the tip of

the nose to the ground.

. Repeat the test 3 times and record

the best distance.

Performance Rating

Table adapted from Johnson BL &

Nelson JK Practical Measurements for

Evaluation in PE (4th ed 1986).

Rating Men Women

Excellent 17.9 17.9

Good 17.0 - 17.9 16.7 - 17.9

Average 15.8 - 16.9 16.2 - 16.6

Fair 15.0 - 15.7 15.4 - 16.1

Poor <15.0 <15.4

Rating Men Women

Excellent >12.50 >11.75

Good 12.50 -11.50 11.75 - 10.74

Average 11.49 - 8.25 10.75 - 7.50

Fair 8.24 - 6.00 7.49 - 5.50

Poor <6.0 <5.50

Rating Men Women

Excellent >10.00 >9.75

Good 10.00 - 7.99 9.75 - 7.74

Average 8.00 - 5.99 7.75 - 5.74

Fair 6.00 - 3.00 5.75 - 2.00

Poor <3.00 <2.00

Rating Men Women

Excellent >16.1 >17.4

Good 14.6 - 16.1 16.2 - 17.4

Average 13.9 - 14.5 15.2 - 16.1

Fair 13.4 - 13.8 14.5 - 15.1

Poor <13.4 <14.5

Test 4 - Shoulder

Starting position

. Grasp one end of the rope

with the left hand.

. Four inches away grasp

the rope with the right hand.


. Extend both arms in front of the

chest and rotate the arms

overhead and behind the

neck until the rope touches

the back.

. As resistance occurs

allow the right hand to

slide along the rope.

. Measure the distance between the

two thumbs – to the nearest 1/4 of

an inch.

. Measure shoulder width from

deltoid to deltoid – to the nearest 1/4

of an inch.

. Subtract the shoulder width

distance from the thumb distance.

. Repeat the test three times and

record the best distance.

Performance Rating

Table adapted from Johnson BL &

Nelson JK Practical Measurements for

Evaluation in PE (4th ed 1986).

Test 5 - Ankle

Starting position.

. Stand facing a wall.

. Feet flat on the ground

toes touching the wall.

. Lean into the wall.


. Slowly slide the feet back

from the wall as far as

possible .

. Keep the feet flat on the

ground, body and knees fully

extended and the chest in contact

with the wall.

. Measure the distance between the

toe line and the wall - to the nearest

1/4 of an inch.

. Repeat the test three times and

record the best distance.

Performance Rating

Table adapted from Johnson BL &

Nelson JK Practical Measurements for

Evaluation in PE (4th ed 1986).

Brian Mackenzie

Dec 2003/Jan 2004 No 8 SUCCESSFUL COACHING 13

Here are 10 practical guidelines that will help an athlete avoid

getting injured

Rating Men Women

Excellent <7.00 <5.00

Good 11.50 - 7.00 9.75 - 5.00

Average 14.50 - 11.51 13.00 - 9.76

Fair 19.75 - 14.51 17.75 - 13.01

Poor 19.75 >17.75

Rating Men Women

Excellent >35.50 >32.00

Good 35.00 - 32.51 32.00 - 30.51

Average 32.50 – 29.51 30.50 – 26.51

Fair 29.50– 26.50 26.50– 24.25

Poor <26.50 <24.25

Hints and Tips

An athlete’s greatest strength is often

his greatest weakness, and this is

particularly noticeable among full-time

sportsmen and women. The

compulsive streak in their character,

which drives them to practise hour

after hour, day after day, is their worst

enemy when it comes to handling

injuries. The only way around this is to

put ‘avoidance of injury’ high on the

list of priorities. When making out a

training plan start with the objectives,

such things as improving aerobic

fitness, practising changes of pace or

maintaining flexibility, including

‘avoidance of injury’ in this list brings

it into the reckoning when planning a

week’s training.

These are my guidelines:

. Never train hard when stiff from

the previous effort.

. Introduce new activities very


. Allow lots of time for warming up

and cooling off.

. Check over training and

competition courses beforehand.

. Train on different surfaces, using

the right footwear.

. Shower and change immediately

after the cool down.

. Aim for the maximum comfort

when travelling.

. Stay away from infectious areas

when training or competing very


. Be extremely fussy about hygiene

in hot weather.

. Monitor the athlete daily for signs

of fatigue. If in doubt, ease off.

Never train hard when stiff

This seems obvious but it is seen all too

often at the beginning of a season or in

a training camp. Some people turn up

very fit and set a fast pace in training

and the others suffer for it the next day.

But instead of waiting for the stiffness

to go, they try to go on training as hard

as the day before. The result is that

running is awkward, movements are

not coordinated and injuries are

more likely.

Introduce new activities


Ideally, one would never introduce

anything new at all, but there is a first

time for everything and there are

bound to be changes of emphasis, the

switch from indoor to outdoor

training or from grass to a synthetic

surface. The solution is to start

switching well before it is necessary.

In switching from cross-country

running to the synthetic track, for

example, one might include a bit of

running on the track whenever the

opportunity arises, even if it is only

three or four laps and a few strides.

The first track session of the year

would only be half a normal session

and it would be done mostly in

trainers. The following week one

might do most of one session on the

track but only part of it in spikes and

for the next two weeks one increases

the proportion done in spikes. After a

month, we might be running three

times a week on the track, with other

sessions being done mostly on grass.

14 SUCCESSFUL COACHING Dec 2003/Jan 2004 No 8

Warming up and cooling down

In the British climate this is

particularly necessary. Warm muscles

stretch much better than cold muscles.

Ligaments and tendons are much

more likely to tear when the muscles

are cold and inflexible.

The warm-up procedure helps in

several other ways, too, both physically

in diverting the blood flow from

nonessential areas to working

muscles, and mentally, in focussing

the athlete on the approaching


I would recommend at least 15

minutes and up to 30 minutes warmup

before hard training starts. In ball

games this can often be done with a

ball, carrying out various skill routines,

but in all cases it should start with five

to 10 minutes of gentle movement,

gradually increasing in pace, followed

by five to 10 minutes of stretching, still

in warm clothing. After that one moves

to fast strides and eventually to short

sprints and then stays warm and loose

until the start. A sprinter might well

take 45 minutes to warm up for a 10-

second burst of energy.

During the cool-down period, which

should last for 10 to 15 minutes after a

competition or a hard training session,

the body temperature returns to

normal and the fatigue products are

flushed out of the muscles, which

reduces the chances of stiffness the

next day.

Check the course beforehand

In cross-country and road running

there may be unexpected traps for the

unwary, potholes in the road, sudden

ups or downs, all of which could cause

trouble if you are not prepared for

them, and of course this is closely

linked to the next rule:

Wear the right shoes

Wearing shoes which are too light or

flimsy or which are unevenly worn are

two very common causes of injury. If

you turn up expecting a soft course

and find that it is frozen hard, you

could be in a lot of trouble. I once

arrived for a so-called cross-country

race in Madrid to find that it was all

road. Luckily I had brought my roadracing

shoes, but my England

colleague, who had only spikes, had to

run the race in dance shoes strapped

on with pink ribbon! (1 won, but he

came second.)

At a higher level, Liz McColgan

threw away a chance of winning the

world cross-country title in Boston

because she had not checked out the

length of spikes necessary on the

snow-covered course. Perhaps the

commonest cause of all injuries is

training too much on hard surfaces.

Running fast on roads and tartan

tracks causes a lot of impact shock. I

recommend getting off the road at

least one day in three.

Shower and change after training

This reduces the likelihood of

stiffening up and your chances of

catching a cold. Ideally, a hard session

or a race should always be followed by

a massage if you want to recover


Travel in comfort

This sounds a bit sissy, but it is not at

all uncommon for athletes to stay

wedged into a minibus or a train,

sitting awkwardly for several hours

before an important event. I

recommend that you get up, walk

around and stretch once every hour

while travelling, if possible. Apart

from the muscles, the more you can

keep down the stress, the better you

will perform. It is best to get to the

venue the day before the event for

anything big, and if you have to deal

with major changes in climate and/or

time zones it is best to get there a week


Avoid infection

After hard sessions, the immune

system is definitely vulnerable. Athletes

in hard training are particularly

susceptible before a big event. They

should stay away from crowded rooms,

schools, and people with bad colds.

Be fussy about hygiene

All too often people in training camps

or in Games villages pick up stomach

bugs just before the big event, and the

reason is often evident from the sloppy

conditions in which they live, with food

left around, dirty clothing, people

sharing cups and glasses. Athletes, like

most young people, have a sense of

invulnerability, which is positively


Monitor fatigue

This cannot be too highly stressed. In

hindsight it is usually possible to trace

the cause of an illness or injury, and

there is usually a point where the

athletes should have eased off but

didn’t. It is a vital part of the coach’s job

to tell the athlete when to stop and the

athlete must play his/her part by being

aware of the early signs of overtiredness.

A raised resting pulse is a

sure sign.

Attitude to injury

However careful you are, injuries can

occur, particularly in the stress of

competition, and illness can be picked

up, often when the athlete is really fit.

The first thing is damage limitation.

The usual course of events is as


1. The athlete feels a little pain during

training and ignores it.

2. The pain recurs, and may even be

felt after training, but is not bad

enough to prevent training.

3. The pain is now bad enough to

interfere with normal training, but

the athlete can still compete, if

he/she rests.

4. The pain is so bad that the athlete

can neither train nor compete.

The time to report the injury and start

treatment is at stage one. The

procedure should be to switch right

away from any exercise, which makes

the injury more painful, and to get

diagnosis immediately, certainly not

later than the next day. At the same

time, coach and athlete should work

out what forms of exercise are possible,

and redesign the programme so that

the athlete is at least doing something

to maintain cardiovascular fitness,

constant body weight and muscle

strength. An inactive injured athlete is

a real ‘sick gorilla’. It is as important to

maintain his morale and confidence as

it is to maintain his fitness, but in these

days of leisure centres, gyms, static

bikes and aqua-joggers it is always

possible to find some suitable exercise.

To take an example: I had a case

where a runner was tripped and fell,

tearing some fibres just below the

kneecap, three weeks before the

Olympic trials. After icing it and

protecting it for the first two days, he

started on daily physiotherapy, and

massaged the area before each session

to stimulate blood flow. He could not

cycle with it but he could walk, do some

circuit training and swim front crawl.

After three days of this he progressed

Dec 2003/Jan 2004 No 8 SUCCESSFUL COACHING 15


This month’s contributors are:

Raphael Brandon Raphael runs his own fitness

consultancy business, and is a specialist in sports

fitness training. He is also London region

strength and conditioning coach for the English

Institute of Sport

Chris Mallac Chris is an experienced sports

physiotherapist. He is currently overseeing

physical preparation at Bath Rugby Union

Bruce Tulloh Bruce was European 5k champion

in 1962 and has been an athletics coach since

1965. He is the author of more than a dozen

books on fitness and running

Brian Mackenzie Brian is a senior UK athletics

track and field coach and an experienced

endurance athlete. He is the editor of the

Successful Coaching newsletter

Successful Coaching is published by Electric Word Publishing plc.

67-71 Goswell Road, London EC1V 7EP

Editor: Brian Mackenzie

Customer services: Mike Hurst

Email: mike.hurst@electricwordplc.com

Please call UK +44 (0) 207 251 3258 or email

mike.hurst@electricwordplc.com if you have a problem with your


Every care is taken to assure the accuracy of the information in Successful

Coaching, but no responsibility can be accepted for the consequences of

actions based on the advice contained herein

© 2003 Electric Word Publishing. All rights reserved

to walking and jogging on grass, then

to long uphill jogs, trying to avoid

limping. Running uphill on grass

means there is very little stress but the

heart is working quite hard. By the 10th

day he was doing long slow training; by

the 14th day he was able to train hard,

but still mainly uphill on grass. In the

third week he was able to do part of the

session on the track and at the end of

the week he went into the trials with no

knee problem at all and finished

second, qualifying for the Olympic


The key is rapid action when the

injury first appears and a lot of

psychological support to back up the

remedial treatment. It is when things

are not going well that the athlete really

needs his coach.

Bruce Tulloh