on Tuesday, April 5, 2011

As a young gymnast stretching before practice was always a big deal, almost a tradition.  I stumbled upon an article describing research on how stretching before practice may actually be detrimental.  While it is highly agreed upon that the range of motion of a gymnast is critical to their performances it was found in this study that using slow and static stretching may help increase flexibility however can also cause a loss of maximum strength, power and explosive performance.

While flexibility is important so is strength and power, this definitely creates a dilemma for many gymnasts since stretching during warm-up is not only a tradition but also a way to help the athlete achieve certain positions during practice/competitions and help avoid pulling muscles.

This study looked into the vibration method of stretching an alternative to the traditional slow and static stretches. They figured this may be a method which would help increase the athletes range of motion while not impacting the athletes strength and power.

Explosive strength according to this study "is defined as the ability of the neuromuscular system to produce dynamic force rapidly in an open kinetic-chain movement, such as jumping, in which rate of force development is at or near maximum".  The major component of this is the rate of force development, which is related to the acceleration of the gymnast.   This is very important to gymnasts for they must have high explosive strength in order to perform their jumps and tumbling passed on beam and floor. It's even critical for bars and vault, watch how quickly they must use that strength to perform the moves.

The study performed examined 22 female athletes. These athletes were then broken into flexibility and explosive strength groups. For the flexibility studies 7 were stretching only, 8 were vibration techniques only  and for the strength group 8 were stretching only and 7 were vibration only.  Flexibility for these tests was measured by having the athletes in the split position and measuring the height between the ground and the spine, where as the explosive strength was measured by flight time, instantaneous forces, jump heigh and flight time.

The finding of this study concluded that adding the vibration techniques to a stretching routine will increase the athletes flexibility while still maintaing their jumping ability.  Both methods were found to increase flexibility but the vibration methods were found to increase the flexibility without a loss of explosive strength.  

It's a little crazy to hear about these studies since stretching before practice has been occurring since the beginning of the sport.  The ability to research impacts on the body and alternatives to stretching has greatly increased over the past years, but I never expected to be told that the static stretches gymnastics has been built on had negative impacts as well. 

It seems as though some of the new technologies and the findings they lead to may have something to do with why it seems sports in general are always moving forward and a faster time or harder move is being achieved.  The ability to find these impacts on the body allow athletes to train in a manner which allows them to increase their strength and flexibility and push their bodies beyond what has been done before.