Do you know the difference between static stretching and dynamic warm-ups? Did you know that doing the wrong one of those two can decrease subsequent athletic performance while doing the right one can increase it? If your answer is yes then perhaps you are not one of the athletes that James Zois from the School of Sport & Exercise Science at Victoria University in Melbourne, Australia is referring to when he says athletes are warming up wrong.

Earlier this month, Zois talked to the press about the research he is doing on the effect of pre-competition static stretches and dynamic warm-ups on athletes’ jumping performance.

He found that static stretching decreased jumping performance by nearly 8%, while dynamic warm-ups increased athletes’ vertical jump by 3%.

Static stretching includes things like calf, quad and hip flex stretches. Dynamic warm-ups are range of motion activities such as high knee raises, leg swings and run-throughs, or physical tasks that involve change of direction.

Zois said too many athletes are over-using static stretches as pre-competition warm-ups, and this can be counter-productive. Over-using them just reduces your performance power.

He said it was like an “epidemic”, athletes everywhere, doing static stretches before competing. They “just aren’t getting the message”:

“I see it at almost every AFL club, tennis match or international soccer event were athletes are stretching on the sidelines just prior to playing,” he added.

In fact, Zois believes his research shows that from a performance power point of view, pre-competition static stretching is worse than no warm up at all.

The point of a “warm-up”, as its name implies, is to increase metabolic processes such as heart rate, muscle temperature, and delivery of oxygen to the muscles that are going to be doing the work.

“If you do anything passive, like static stretching, you actually reverse those processes and so are actually doing the opposite of a warm up,” Zois explained.

He said his research shows there is an almost 11% difference in performance between doing static and dynamic stretching before physical performance, and athletes can’t really afford to ignore this.

This does not mean static stretches have no value, it is just you have to know when best to do them. They are probably more suited to after activity such as at the end of a workout, when your body is ready to relax.

Zois says static stretches should not be a part of a normal athlete’s warm-up regime if there is less than an hour to go before performance. They are however, suitable for people with chronic injury or muscle stiffness.

Zois is currently teaching warm-up techniques to players at Australia’s Collingwood Football Club (“The Magpies”), which plays in the Australian Football League (AFL). He is also the strength and conditioning performance manager at Tennis Victoria, the body that represents all affiliated tennis clubs, centres, associations, regions and their members throughout Victoria, Australia.

Written by Catharine Paddock PhD