by Luke Kane Exercise Physiologist – Movement Specialist
“Is it safe to stretch before I train?” I get this question all the time in the clinic. For as long as I can remember there has been some level of debate over whether it is safe, unsafe, good or bad for performance to hold static stretches before training or competing. 

There are many articles discussing the pros and cons of static stretching for performance and injury prevention. There are tonnes of research papers and systematic reviews that analyse the effects on injury prevention, force and power production post static stretching. Most of which use static hold protocols of 30sec to 1min. 

For the purpose of this post I’m not going to enter into a review of the research or a debate over the research vs. practice. What I am going to do is discuss the implication of static stretching pre-training as it relates to CrossFit participation. To be clear, I am defining static stretching as any sustained positional stretch that is held for greater than 30sec, including distraction stretching, loaded assisted stretching or classic stretching. 

If I were to be asked what is the most common cause of injury in CrossFit the answer is simple, poor position. Not poor coaching, not too much weight, but the limited ability of the participant to achieve a position that was ideal for tolerating the load they were applying. With that in mind, I think it is important to draw a clear distinction between CrossFit athletes and CrossFit participants. It may well have been a blurry line in the past, but as the sport of CrossFit has evolved the demands, the training and the rules applied to each are completely different. 

So if we are talking about the majority of the CrossFit community, we are talking about CrossFit participants. For the average CrossFit participant the value of improving their squat mechanics by 5% and subsequently reducing the stress loading on their lumbar spine, knees or ankles is far greater than the small reduction in power output that may be caused as a result of the static stretching they completed prior to training. Adding 5 degrees of shoulder flexion to improve their overhead position in the snatch, pull up, push press, push jerk or hand stand will be much more valuable to the participant as a way of improving position than the hit they may take in their power output. 

If your mechanics are perfect, your position is amazing and your only concern is maximising your performance potential, then sure, you may have grounds to avoid static mobilising pre-training in favour of active warm up protocols. However, this is not the case for 99% of Crossfit participants turning up to their gym day in and day out. 

Better mechanical position is more efficient, safer and allows most a greater ability to apply load (catch a snatch, clean, muscle up etc) So if you think you are in the 1% that doesn’t need to concern yourself with improved position or range, fantastic. If you fall into the remaining 99% of participants then I suggest you continue your mobility routines with a clear focus on improving position before you worry if stretching before you train is going to increase your risk of injury or limit your performance. 

**Please note that I am not disregarding the importance of stabilisation and control please see my earlier article “To stabilise or to mobilise, that is the question”. Stretching and mobility is not the cure all, but for most it is a very good starting point for improving their CrossFit experience, longevity and performance.