The common stretching mistake

Hockey player stretching

I remember going to gym class in elementary school up until high school the first thing we would do during a class was to get in a circle and do stretches. This stayed consistent with the sports I played regardless of if it was hockey, lacrosse, little league baseball, or fencing. I’m guessing others have had very similar experiences. To this day I still see guys before adult hockey league games or even when I’m working junior hockey using static stretches to get ready.

But why?

“Stretching prevents injuries. Right?”


Let’s talk about stretching specifically: Static Stretching

When people think of stretching they usually imagine someone holding a static stretch such as a seated toe touch. This type of stretching is called static stretching. It involves elongating a muscle and holding a position for a short period of time in order to reduce the amount of tightness felt in the muscle. It used to be believed that this type of stretching reduced injury risk. The evidence, however, does not back this up.

Static stretching before a workout is not an effective form of injury prevention.  While static stretching does seem to lengthen a muscle both for a short period of time following the stretch as well as in a more permanent fashion if performed regularly, it does not reduce injury risk when performed before an activity.

On the flip side the research suggests that for a period of time after performing static stretches one has reduced explosive power in their muscles. As a result, static stretching can negatively impact athletic performance.

So no more stretching? Well no.

Static stretching does still have its time and place. It is an effective way to maintain and improve mobility and range of motion. Static stretching can also help reduce some delayed onset muscle soreness. When performed post-workout or post-activity you can get these benefits without the negative impacts on athletic performance. So you should probably do your static stretching post-game.

“Okay, but what should I be doing before I workout or play a sport?” Answer: Dynamic Stretching

Athletes should still be warming up before workouts, practices, and games. When we talk about warm-ups we are talking about dynamic stretches. Dynamic stretches are workout drills that warm up the muscles and get blood flowing. They involve performing a specific motion in a repetitive fashion. Examples of dynamic stretching include high knees, butt-kicks, and carioca. While I wouldn’t call the evidence conclusive dynamic stretches do seem to limit the risk of injury.

Ideally, players should develop the same warm-up routine that they use anytime they get ready for an activity. This is especially beneficial for high-level athletes as it can help them get in the right mindset.  The idea behind a warm-up is to get the muscles and joints moving within their normal range of motion. This gets blood flow to the area that is about to be used during the activity and can loosen up the joints in the area. Furthermore, the activation of the muscles before a high-performance activity helps to prepare them for the activity. Activating the muscle improves our overall proprioception and resultant stability in the area.

When designing your pre-activity warm-up try to incorporate dynamic stretches that take you through similar motions as the ones you are going to be performing during the activity. If you need help designing your warm-up feel free to send me an email at

My bio:   I help get athletes out of pain and back to enjoying their active lifestyles. I’m a certified chiropractic sports practitioner, certified strength and conditioning specialist, an emergency medical responder and the team chiropractor for The Pittsburgh Vengeance.