Growing up, stretching was probably ingrained into your head as one of the most important things you can do to improve athletic performance and prevent injury. After all, loose muscles should allow for greater mobility and a decreased probability of tear, right? Although this is true, new research suggests that stretching directly before a workout can actually be bad for you. The study suggests that static stretching, or motionless stretching, actually provides no benefit directly before a workout. Instead, alternative warm up exercises and stretching techniques are proven to better prepare your body for exercise and prevent injury. Before your next workout, ditch the motionless stretching routine you sludge through to better prepare your body for the workout ahead.
The Negative Effects of Static Stretching
Recent studies published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning and The Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports suggest that pre-exercise static stretching is generally unnecessary and might also be counterproductive. The study suggested that when you stretch directly before working out the function and power of your muscles can actually become weaker than with no stretching at all. This leaves your body feeling weak and your muscles wobbly, which decreases your overall performance and can lead to injury in some cases.
However, there are benefits to stretching before a workout, including an increase in blood flow, elongated and loose muscles, and improved circulation of oxygen throughout your body. These all help your muscles perform at a higher level and decrease your chances of getting injured. In order to achieve these benefits without the performance decreasing effects of static stretching, you should consider a stretching technique the fitness world is raving about: dynamic stretching.
A Better Approach to Your Warmup
Training professionals across the country are turning away from motionless stretching and advising their clients to prepare for their workout with dynamic stretches. In short,
dynamic stretching is stretching through movement. This includes any form of stretching where the body is constantly moving, like arm swings, leg lifts, squats, butt kicks, and walking lunges. The goal of this is to warm up your muscles while you stretch them, in turn improving blood flow and allowing for the proper circulation of oxygen. Another reason why this technique has become so popular in recent years is because it prepares your body for the specific workout you will be performing. If your workout of the day focuses on your legs, incorporating dynamic stretches that involve movement of the leg muscles is the best way to get them ready for the lifts ahead. This will help improve muscle performance during a workout and reduce the probability of an injury from occurring.
Save Stretching for After Your Workout
Don’t get me wrong, I am not against static stretching. In fact, I believe it should be an integral part of everyone’s daily lives. However, the benefits of motionless stretching directly prior to a workout are trumped by the harmful effects it can have on your performance. Instead, static stretching should be saved for after your workout. When the muscles are warm and tired, stretching can help reduce your recovery time, treat soreness by elongating the muscles, and increase blood circulation. Long-term benefits include increasing range of motion, building muscle strength, and improving posture. Post-workout stretching is also a great way to decrease muscle tension and reduce stress, something we all could use a little less of in our lives.
Stretching is one of the most important things you can do to maintain a healthy, loose, and stress-free body, but different activities call for different stretching techniques. Performing motionless stretches prior to a work out while your muscles are cold does not offer any advantages and can actually decrease muscle performance. Instead, perform dynamic stretches that mimic the workout routine you will perform for the day. Only after a workout should you perform static stretches to reduce muscle soreness and recover faster.
Dr. Kevin Christie is a Chiropractic Physician and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) in Miami, FL at Health-Fit Chiropractic & Sports Medicine where he treats college athletes, as well as professional athletes from the NFL, MLB, and NHL. Dr. Christie was appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist to the Board of Athletic Trainers as the Chiropractic Advisor. He is also part of the IRONMAN® Provider Network through A.R.T., which sets up a treatment tent for every IRONMAN event to provide treatment to IRONMAN athletes.