To the recreationally active athlete, stretching is something they view that should be done very often and is something that is good to do before games and workouts because it helps loosen them up.
To the elite athlete, stretching is something they are a little more confused about because they have been exposed to more strength and conditioning professionals in their day. Some have said it’s ok, and others have said it’s a waste of time and instead they should be performing dynamic stretching exercises or foam rolling work.
Finally, to the strength and conditioning coach – stretching seems to have placed itself within this world where only two camps exist. You’re either in the camp that thinks stretching is dumb, or you’re in the camp that think stretching is the holy grail to baseball performance.
Like everything in this crazy industry, the truth is always found somewhere in the middle. And, like always in this crazy industry, everybody seems to be making decisions based off of what somebody said in the dugout rather than on any real data.
Today, I want to explore the findings of a major new study with you so that you can leave here with recommendations that are truly science-based. If applied properly, the recommendations I leave you with here today could be the next big thing in your baseball development.
Getting You Up to Date
If you surround yourself with true sports science professionals, you will already know there has been much controversy in the world of stretching – it’s become borderline trendy to say that stretching before training is a bad thing to do.
For a good reason though, because we already have plenty of existing data that demonstrates static stretching before exercise does not help reduce your risk for injury – beyond this, we have another mountain of data that demonstrates pre-workout static stretching actually reduces performance, and not enhances it.
Sounds pretty bad, right?
Although this looks bad on the surface, it isn’t right for us to make the claim that all stretching is bad if we have only seen bad results with pre-workout specific stretching. Thinking in “black or white” terms always results in silly conclusions and keeps you further away from the truth than you otherwise would have been.
The study I want to discuss with you today is a new systematic review that contained 28 different studies on stretching and they set out to answer the question of what happens to people in the long-term if they incorporate stretching on a regular basis.
Put very simply, this design was created to assess the effects of long-term stretching on muscle performance – this included dynamic tasks, isometric strength, and isotonic muscle strength.
Dynamic tasks represent you moving through a quick stretching shortening cycle, such as jumping.
Isometric strength is when you are applying force to an object and neither you nor the object are moving, such as pressing up against a wall.
Isotonic strength is what you think of when doing any resistance training movement, isotonic strength is made up of eccentric and concentric muscle contractions – this represents things like squats, bench press, biceps curls, etc.
I know some of those terms can sound a little fancy and intimidating for some of you out there, but I assure you they’re easy to grasp – especially since you have probably performed all those types of exercises in the past.
Results at A Glance
- Of the 28 studies analyzed, 14 of them found that chronic stretching had beneficial effects on performance
- Seven studies were conducted to determine the effect of stretching on dynamic performance, of these seven studies, four were found to have beneficial effects while none had any negative effects
- 10 studies examined the effect of stretching on isometric strength – 8 of these studies found that there was no effect, while 2 of the studies found it was beneficial to add in stretching
- 13 studies examined the effect of stretching on isotonic muscle performance – 7 studies found that chronic stretching improved muscle performance, whereas 6 found no effect
What Does This Mean for Baseball?
This was an excellent review.
What’s important to point out here is that this was a review and not just a “study”. You can find a study to “prove” anything you want, but the truth is always found when you examine the entire body of data and see where all of the data is leaning, rather than what the finding of a single trial report.
Beyond this, what I like most about this review is that in order to be included within this review the authors mandated that it had to be a long-term study – which much better represents baseball players because they will/already have been stretching for years. So, it’s much more relevant for them to know what happens in the long-term rather than what happens to a sedentary person after they stretch once.
The above results I put in bullet-points for you paint a bit of a blurry picture though, don’t they?
Well, that’s science.
People who are trying to sell you something speak in absolutist terms, and whenever anybody speaks in absolutist terms you can almost guarantee they have no real knowledge of the existing data on a topic and that they got their info from “the guy at the supplement store”
What seems to be happening here is that stretching is decreasing the stiffness in an important point on anatomy for baseball players known as the “muscle-tendon unit” – this is important to care about because stretching seems to be increasing the action of this unit which is leading to better elastic-strength during movement.
Meaning, you can think about stretching to help improve upon any and all things “explosive” out on the baseball diamond. Jumping, take-off speed, change of direction, etc.
This effect is what would explain a lot of the positive results you saw in the above studies examining the effects of stretching on dynamic tasks (which is a massive part of sport performance as a whole).
Beyond this – stretching not only had a beneficial effect on dynamic performance, we saw above that it created a positive effect on plenty of isotonic studies, meaning it is improving baseball athletes concentric and eccentric strength as well. This is great news because concentric strength plays a massive role in things like batting power and throwing – whereas eccentric strength is important to have as they act as decelerators out on the field which increases our agility and speed of direction change.
It’s theorized that the benefit of stretching here is due to the shift that changes in your muscles anatomy over time where it becomes longer, has a higher ability for force production, and is better able to shift your joint angle to produce maximal torque during movement. Put simply, this is an all-round baseball performance enhancement.
Stretching for Baseball
Although the above can seem exciting, it’s worth mentioning that although half of the studies reported positive findings – the other half reported no benefit at all. Additionally, these weren’t studies performed directly on baseball athletes. So, although the research is still highly applicable to baseball since it was done on muscle performance indicators, it would be great in the future to do more studies directly on baseball athletes and assess baseball-specific movements.
However, it is crucial to point out that none of the studies included in this systematic review decreased muscle performance.
With that said, we are left with a scenario where the act of adding stretching to your current routine may not be some magic bullet that takes you to the big leagues, but at the same time, it is a no-risk thing to do.
If you can do something that has a potential upside for muscle performance (and an obvious upside for flexibility and mobility) with zero apparent downside – I’d say go for it for sure.
Although, timing is critical here because the data I opened this up with on pre-workout stretching reducing performance is no joke and has been repeated multiple times over. With that said, here are the general recommendations we can make for baseball athletes to start incorporating stretching into their daily routines in order to maximize their performance.
Stretching Guidelines for Baseball Players
- If you add static stretching to your routine, it is best to do it at night time or after your training session
- Stretch each muscle 2-3 times per week for 10-30 seconds at a time, achieving approximately 60 seconds of stretching time per muscle group per week
- So that you’re not spending obnoxious amounts of time stretching, direct your efforts to the muscle groups that are the tightest in baseball athletes and have the most involvement in sport-specific movements such as your shoulders, T-spine, hips, and lower body
- If needed, you can stretch more often than the above recommendations as I would consider the above your base-level of effectiveness
Example Static Stretching Routine for Baseball Players
LOWER BODY ROUTINE
A: Groin Frog Stretch
B: Seated Piriformis Stretch
C: Seated Glute Stretch
D: Hip Flexor Stretch
E: Gliding calf/ankle mobilization towards wall
Perform each stretch for 10-30 seconds and run through the stretches for 2 rounds total.