The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


Effects of Low and High Volume Stretching on Bench Press Performance

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Live well

Monday, Jun 21, 2010

Warm-up and Static Stretching Is a Common Routine Prior to Performance: Stretching as part of warm up is commonly integrated as part of the pre-competition routine for competitive athletes and recreational fitness participants in order to reduce injury and improve muscular performance. Previous recent research 1 suggests that acute stretching before maximal muscular performance may hinder the ability of the muscle to produce force.  Two theories to explain this include mechanical factors such as reduced stiffness on the musculotendinous unit and/or neural factors such as altered motor control or a greater autogenic inhibition.1 However, this study investigated stretching volume, rest interval, and stretching method effects on the 1 Repetition Max bench press in resistance trained collegiate football players.

It was thought that static stretching would be detrimental to 1 RM performance. The investigators proposed that high volume static stretching (HVSS) and high volume Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (HVPNF) stretching would have a significant detrimental effect on 1 RM bench press because of repeated high volume placed on the muscle.  A within–subject randomized repeated measures design was used. Fifteen athletes completed 5 different stretching protocols integrated with a 1RM dynamic warm-up routine followed by 1RM bench press testing in randomly assigned order.

5 Stretching Protocols: The protocols included a) non-stretching (NS), b) low-volume  PNF stretching (LVPNFS), c) HVPNFS, d) low-volume static stretching (LVSS), and e) HVSS. The two stretches selected were the chest/shoulder partner stretch, and the overhead triceps partner stretch.

Types of Subjects and Conditions Important for Study Selection: All of the subjects were injury free and able to perform stretching exercises and the 1RM bench press test without pain.  Furthermore none of the subjects had taken creatine or other performance-enhancing substances within the previous 90 days. Subjects refrained from vigorous upper body exercise for 48 hours before each testing session. Anthropometric measurements were taken before testing and the 3 site skin folds for body composition (chest, abdomen, thigh) and body weight to the nearest 10th of a kilogram.  The strength testing protocol was the American College of Sports Medicine guidelines for the Bench Press 1 RM.  The subjects assumed a supine position on a bench with the feet flat on the ground, the grip on the bar at slightly wider than shoulder width and the bar lowered to the chest in a smooth, controlled manner and lifted to a maximal upper limb length.

Results: One way ANOVA analysis showed that there was no significant effect of any of the 5 stretching treatments on the 1 RM bench press performance.  Furthermore, repeated measures ANOVA revealed no significant differences among the testing days which indicates there was no testing order effects.  So, while the investigators expected a detrimental effect on the 1 RM results, no negative effects were determined. However, the rest interval after the stretching session and prior to the initial 1 RM attempt was 5 minutes.  This time interval may have been sufficient time to mitigate the effects of the stretching protocols on muscular performance.  This was consistent with the findings reported by Torres et al. 2 on upper body performance by collegiate track throwers with 5 minutes of rest after stretching. 

Discussion: This study and most comparative studies had trained collegiate athletes as subjects that performed regular stretching as part of the training warm-up routine and suggests that they have developed an adaptation of recovering from altered elastic properties of the musculotendinous unit within the 5 minutes of rest. Also, previous studies that reported decrements in performance was mostly studied in the lower body (Achilles tendons, hamstrings, calves) and suggest that acute stretching in the upper body may respond differently to acute stretching in the lower body. 

Student Questions: 1) Do you see how trained athletes versus untrained subjects might get different results?  There seems to be an adaptation to a set routine and regular warm-up and strength training. 2) What does the Law of Specificity have to do with this? 3) If you were conducting a follow up study, what would you alter to test subjects and get different results?

1Zachary D. Molacek, Donovan S. Conley, Tammy K. Evetovich, and Kristi R. Hinnerichs. Effects of Low-and High-volume Stretching on Bench Press Performance In Collegiate Football Players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 24:711-716, 2010. 2Torres, EM, Kraemer, WJ, Vingren, JL, Volek, JS, Hatfield, DL, Spiering, BA, Ho,JY, Fragala, MS, Thomas, GA, Anderson, JM, Hakkinen, K, and Maresh, CM. Effects of stretching on upper-body muscular performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 22:1279-1285,2008.