Stretching – you’re doing it wrong

Static stretching vs dynamic stretching – which is best?

Young woman seated hamstring stretch

I’ll be the first to admit that stretching isn’t the most exciting topic for most people, but it’s kind of important, so I should cover it. Plus, I’ve recently found a video by Ryan Hall that gives some extra insights into common stretches we do before BJJ:

Ryan gives some really valuable little tips on how to do each stretch correctly. Since you generally learn these stretches by just following along in class, with little to no additional information, it’s all too easy to miss the little details. For example, the first stretches he shows are the shoulder stretches you do by pulling the arm across the body (see 9.08 in the video). These are really common stretches used in all sorts of sports, yet the little detail he gives that you should be taking the shoulder down and back while pushing the chest out as you do them makes all the difference. Now you’re actually working the shoulder joint, which is the point of the stretch. Just yanking the arm across the body on its own won’t do squat.

Look at the ‘sprinters stretch’ at 24.26 – everybody I know will reach for that foot (including myself) but as Ryan points out, the point of the stretch is to get really comfortable getting your head to your leg – that’s where the focus needs to be.

What’s also nice about the video, is that Ryan puts each stretch in context – so you can see where it fits into BJJ as a whole. So, he’ll show you why it’s useful to be flexible.

And yet, he’s doing it all wrong. We all are. Or are we? You need to decide this for yourself after reading the latest research into dynamic vs static stretching, which I’ll point you towards here.

Ryan is showing what are called ‘static’ stretches, where you move into position then hold for 10 seconds. The current thinking is that ‘dynamic stretches’ are a better way to warm up. Dynamic stretches don’t involve holding the position at all, you simply take the joint through a range of motion, without holding the position at any point.

The reason of why dynamic stretching is better for you as a warm-up (than static stretching) seems to come down to two things. Firstly, the purpose of a warm-up is to warm the muscles and tendons, ready for the work that’s about to be done. In martial arts the work that is about to be done doesn’t usually involve holding stretched positions in extended periods (although if you’re getting stacked in your guard in BJJ, then it might!) Generally though, we’re about to use our muscles in an explosive way while putting our joints through their full range of motion. This is very different to the experience of a static stretch.

The second part is to do with the Golgi tendon receptor. This is a nerve which is found inside every tendon, and tells the muscle to relax and switch off to avoid it getting injured. So, if your bicep is under load and at full contraction for more than 5 seconds, the Golgi tendon receptor will make it relax, so you don’t tear anything. It’s this nerve which gets activated in a static stretch lasting more than, say, 5 seconds, essentially tricking it into relaxed the muscle further than normal, which means you can stretch further, but it also means the muscle can lack up to 20% of the power it had before it did the extra stretch (because you need tension to create power).

There have also been various studies performed which show that static stretching as a warm-up does nothing to help athletic performance, and in some cases actually diminishes it.

I think it all comes down to how you view the warm-up. If it’s simply to prepare your body for the work to be done, then dynamic stretching makes sense. However, you’re not going to dramatically increase your flexibility with dynamic stretching. So, in an ideal world you’d have both – the dynamic stretch before the activity, as a warm-up, then the static stretch as a cool-down afterwards.

A good source of information on stretching for athletic performance is sports coach Brian Mac, who has a website packed full of articles, like these ones, which contain the following quotes:

Muscle movement

“Contained in the tendon of each muscle is the Golgi tendon receptor. This receptor is sensitive to the build up of tension when a muscle is either stretched or contracted. The receptor has a tension threshold that causes the tension to be released when it gets to high. As the Biceps contracts and the threshold is exceeded then a signal is sent to the Biceps causing it to relax. This mechanism prevents damage being done to the Biceps should the weight be to heavy or the movement is to fast.”

Conditioning: How does static stretching affect an athletes performance?

“In conclusion, in most cases static stretching before exercise reduces an athlete’s power and strength. If the athlete participates in power or strength exercises acute stretching may not be recommended. “

Flexibility: Dynamic versus passive stretches

“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.”

Finally, here’s a few stretches to try:
Dynamic Stretching Exercises

Static Stretching Exercises




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