To stretch or not to stretch, that is the question. The topic of stretching has become a contentious one, especially in the world of athlete preparation.
First, let's define the types of stretching. Typically, when someone talks about stretching, they are referring to static stretching or holding a position for a specified amount of time with the goal of lengthening the muscle (or so they think - we'll get into this in another article) and improving range of motion. There is also dynamic stretching which has many variations like ballistic, PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation), and AIS (active isolated stretching). Both of these types of methods can be passive, someone moves your body part, or active, you move your body part.
For those who want the bottom line: less than 60 seconds of static stretching as part of your warm-up (preparation) can improve performance.
For those who want to dig deeper, here you go:
We need to briefly go down the rabbit hole of flexibility vs. mobility. Some define flexibility in terms of muscle, as in lengthening the muscle, and mobility in terms of a joint and the ability of a joint to move through a range of motion. Others define flexibility as your ability to be moved and mobility as your ability to move. I prefer thinking of flexibility as your muscles and mobility as your joints. At the end of the day, the goal is to increase your ability to move through a range of motion under control. And then determine if that is going to help your specific athletic pursuit.
The paper Acute Effects of Static Stretching on Muscle Strength and Power: An Attempt to Clarify Previous Caveats provides a great update on the topic of static stretching and its application to sports performance and injury prevention.
"It seems that the contradictory and constantly changing reports with regard to StS [static stretching] research may cause confusion, particularly with coaches and practitioners."
"The general belief that spread from the World Wars until the 1990s is that StS promoted flexibility and improved athletic performance. This was mainly substantiated by the thought that greater ROM [range of motion] reduces resistance to movement and improves movement economy."
"However, since the late 1990s up to early 2000s, researchers have started discussing the potential harmful effects of StS on subsequent strength- and power-related activities."
"As a result, it has been widely recommended to avoid performing prolonged StS before strength- and power-related tasks and to favor dynamic stretching exercises instead."
Recent "findings contradict the widespread opinion that StS inhibits performance in strength- and power-related activities. Recent evidence illustrates that it is primarily a matter of total stretching duration."
"Clearly, short-duration (≤60 s per muscle group) StS can be performed as part of a full warm-up routine before strength- and power-related activities with negligible risk of performance harm and a potentially positive impact on flexibility and musculotendinous injury occurrence in physically active individuals. However, in high-performance athletes, short-duration StS has to be applied with caution in particular before competition due to its slightly negative but still prevalent effects on subsequent strength and power performances."