Research on static stretching is plentiful and it is likely to be strongly complementary to strength training. Unfortunately, it is quite boring to most and unlike resistance training little attention is paid to posture, form or aspects of loading progression: Range of MotionXTimeXSets. Rather than a research review I have detailed my practical suggestions for static stretching with examples of how they apply to stretching the gastroc/soleus, hip flexors/quads and piriformis.
General Principles for Stretching:
1. Let initial testing guide the dose
Stabilise (the pelvis) and judge the tension at a certain ROM, in the style of Thomas test, Ober’s test, FABER test etc. Don’t go for ROM that simply isn’t there on testing or there will be inevitable compensations, and look 3d e.g. lateral deviation on a Thomas test or Ober’s test means less sagittal ROM in a hip flexor stretch is possible with good alignment. Ironically athletes will often stretch problem areas in big volume but bad posture is only making things worse for them and giving overload for a new injury.
2. Think about and control the movement and environment – Note muscle attachments and orientation, avoid deviations in pelvis/knee/ankle/foot position which alter orientation of attachments.
3. Don’t be a slave to gravity
Change the position and/or employ external equipment until you are in control. Taking time to find the right position is worth it as static stretching is a daily, long term investment.
4.Keep the pelvis in check
Pelvic tilt and rotation (most muscles are stretched unilaterally) matter a lot as a lot of muscle attachments are to pelvic landmarks. Keep the pelvis and lumbar region square and keep the pelvis tall. Use palpation where necessary, with a standing position and neutral pelvis as a reference for changes in alignment.
5. Watch out for tibiofemoral rotation
Subtle rotation (often sourced from the foot) has big consequences for muscle length, especially in the notorious myofascial region of the lateral hip, thigh and knee. If alignment is good, there will often be stronger sensation in TFL and on lateral border of rectus femoris in certain stretches, patella alignment with knee and hip will be enhanced and vastus medialis will feel longer and closer to a more medial patella. Again palpation is useful with a neutral standing position with neutral pelvis used as a reference for changes in alignment.
6. Be aware of Foot Position
Keep the MLA up and be careful of pressure anterior/posterior and also medial/lateral, foot posture can easily be lost with a lack of concentration and lead to consequences for tibiofemoral rotation, and subsequently hip alignment.
7. Give Cues and Specific Instruction
Static stretching is static, and very boring to most. Athletes are likely to concentrate on rear foot posture in a heavy lunge but a hip flexor stretch on floor, a wall or bench it is static and low load so attention goes out the window. Running through cues at given time intervals can help, as can permanent focus on particular cues for the more mentally robust. Athletes often have clear routines to get correct posture before attempting a heavy bench press and squat and will not lift until they are sure and comfortable, and the same diligence to preparation of position should be applied to static stretching.
8. Sequencing matters
There is little point in working on gastroc/soleus ROM and then going to a hip flexor stretch where the dorsal aspect of the rear foot is flush to the floor and the achilles shortened severely. Similarly, it is likely best to stretch the piriformis and other hip rotators related to the lateral myofascial mess of the ITB/TFL/piriformis before moving on to rectus femoris/quad/hamstring work.