Is your pre-workout stretch hurting your body?
If you’re bending down to touch your toes before a workout, you may not be stretching correctly. In fact, you could be decreasing your performance and putting yourself at risk for injury before you even begin your workout.
According to a study by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, you do not benefit from a static stretch (stretching a muscle or group of muscles to its farthest point and then maintaining that position) and could even be harming your body. The study found that certain stretching techniques for the hamstrings and quadriceps lowered strength and power output in high-performance male and female athletes. Power was significantly reduced in those who performed static stretches for the typical 90 seconds. Many other studies reinforce this claim. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that static stretching reduces endurance while increasing energy expenditure. Talk about setting yourself up for failure!
Every time you exercise, there should be a five- to 10-minute warmup to increase your heart rate and bring blood flow to your muscles, followed by a dynamic stretch session. Dynamic stretching seems to be the most efficient form of stretching — especially if you are engaging in a specific sport. Dynamic stretching consists of controlled leg and arm swings that gently take you to the limits of your range of motion.
“For years we’ve known that muscles lengthen during athletic performance; therefore, we thought that stretching before activity would prepare those muscles to lengthen and reduce injury,” says kinesiology professor Bill Holcomb, who also heads the University of Nevada Las Vegas Sports Injury Research Center, in UNLV Magazine. “Studies like ours found that if you do static stretching, muscles are prepared to lengthen for injury prevention, but at the expense of force and power.”
According to a New York Times article on the subject, dynamic stretching increases power, flexibility and range of motion. Therefore, it’s highly encouraged for sport-specific athletes. But the everyday athlete should practice dynamic stretching as well. After all, if static stretching doesn’t improve the muscles’ ability to perform with more power, why should we do it?
“You may feel as if you’re able to stretch farther after holding a stretch for 30 seconds, so you think you’ve increased that muscle’s readiness,” said Malachy McHugh, director of research at the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, in the New York Times article. However, the article continued, you’ve increased only your mental tolerance for the discomfort of the stretch. The muscle is actually weaker.
So is static stretching ever a good idea? Yes! Static stretching is beneficial if performed post-workout. This way, you are relaxing your muscles and decreasing your heart rate.
To get the most benefits from dynamic stretching, tailor you warmup to the activity you’re about to partake in.
All-purpose dynamic stretches
Goose-step march: Slowly lift your leg straight out in front of you, alternating as you walk with your normal stride length for a hamstring stretch.
Knee lifts: As you’re jogging or walking, bring knees up toward your chest. For a variation, as your right knee comes up, twist the lifted leg gently to the left and your upper body gently to the right for a spinal twist. Repeat on each side as you jog or walk.
Butt-kick: As you jog or walk, bend one knee and lift it behind you as if you were trying to kick yourself in the butt for a nice quadriceps stretch.
Do several repetitions of 30 seconds each at your own pace. The point is to do the movements in a controlled way. Stop if you get tired so you still have energy for your workout.
Here’s a video on more dynamic stretch ideas by Runner’s World: