For decades, fitness pros (including me) have recommended stretching before and after workouts to help improve performance and prevent injuries. Stretching was always considered a key component of both the warm up and cool down portions of a workout plan. However, over the last several years, numerous studies have surfaced suggesting that certain stretching techniques can actually cause you more harm than good if done at the wrong time.
There are many different stretching techniques out there but I’m only going to discuss the two most common ones, static and dynamic.
Static stretching is by far the most common stretching technique. It involves holding a particular muscle group in a fixed and lengthened position for a given amount of time – usually about 30 to 60 seconds. This type of stretch signals your muscles to relax and helps loosen up the surrounding tendons and ligaments. Classic static stretches include: the standing thigh (heel to butt), knees to chest and seated hamstring (toe touch) stretch – plus the many others you might remember from gym class!
Dynamic stretching involves moving your muscles and joints repetitively through similar movement patterns of the activity you’re about to participate in. For example, a golfer would mimic the golf swing with or without a club in their hands, or a soccer player would perform leg swings in various directions.
Dynamic stretching is also helpful for preparing your muscles and joints for non-sport specific activities, like your workout. Examples of more “general” dynamic stretches include movements such as walking lunges, jumping jacks, high stepping, arm swings and shoulder and neck rolls.
What Does the Research Say?
When it comes to increasing the flexibility of your muscles and joints, the research is pretty favorable to both static and dynamic stretching techniques. However, unlike dynamic stretching, there are some major red flags concerning static stretching in terms of improving performance and preventing injuries – particularly if it’s performed just prior to your workout or sporting activity.
There’s growing evidence that static stretching may actually hamper athletic performance and increase injury risk when performed right before physical activities such as running, jumping and strength training. Researchers have noted significant reductions in both strength and speed in activities that are preceded by static stretching. In a recent study in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, subjects not only performed a barbell squat with 8.3 % less weight after static stretching, they also reported feeling “reduced lower body stability” after stretching compared to when they didn’t stretch. Hmm – not good.
Many researchers (and so do I) believe the reason for these negative effects of static stretching on performance is because this type of stretching does exactly what we’re asking it to do – relax muscles and loosen joints. Although that’s a good thing, it’s not what you want to do right before vigorous physical activity. You want stable joints and your muscles firing on all cylinders for your workout or tennis match – you can send out the “relaxation” signals out afterwards.
I’m sure you get it by now that it’s not a wise idea to perform static stretching exercises before a workout or sports activity. But should you not do them at all? No. Static stretches are very helpful for improving the range of motion around your joints. They should be included at the very end of your workout, as part of your cool down. This is when your body is the warmest and the conditions for improving your flexibility are the best.
On the other hand, dynamic stretching makes for a great warm up activity, especially right before playing a sport like basketball or tennis. Unlike static stretching, dynamic stretching has been shown to improve performance when done right before physical activity. Dynamic stretching can also be included as part of your cool down, but I prefer winding down with static stretching – it’s much more relaxing!
Final Note – If you were planning on doing some static stretching and nothing else, be sure to warm up first – 5 to 10 minutes of brisk walking, jogging or biking will do the trick. It’s never a good idea to stretch cold muscles and joints.
I hope that helps,
PaulShare With Friends: