Ok–for some individuals, stretching in addition to a workout is the icing on the cake…a nice touch, but not really necessary. Or, maybe you’re the type of person who thinks that touching your toes for a few seconds after getting off the treadmill is plenty. As it turns out when, and how, you stretch your muscles can make or break your fitness goals.
Stretching before a workout is critical for preventing injury as well as improving performance. This is especially true if you exercise right after waking up or if you’re fairly sedentary during the day–your muscles are most likely going to be tight. One study showed that stretching for 15 minutes before a workout can help you to avoid injury.
So exactly what type of stretching are we talking about here? We are talking about doing a dynamic warm-up before exercise. This is in opposition to static stretches, which are typically held for 20-30 seconds in the same position (think hamstring stretches). The benefit of performing a dynamic warm-up is that it involves active movements that mimic your actual workout. If you’ve ever noticed runners getting ready for a race, you most likely will see them performing dynamic stretches such as hip circles, walking lunges, and butt kicks to activate the muscle groups used in running. During dynamic stretching you are constantly moving, so it provides a cardio warm-up as well. Not only will you decrease your risk of injury, research shows that dynamic stretching can help to improve athletic performance. One study found that college wrestlers who completed a dynamic warm-up for 4 weeks saw improvements in strength, endurance, agility, and anaerobic capacity. Other research suggests that dynamic stretching enhances muscle performance and power output compared to static stretching.
The Problem With Holding Tight
Due to the thought that performing a mini-workout before your actual workout sounds exhausting, many of us instead resort to a few half-hearted toe touches after exercise. Static stretches like these focus more on relaxing the muscle and promoting flexibility than dynamic stretching, which is why static stretching may be much better to add to the end of your workout. Recent research has questioned the benefits of static stretching before a workout, suggesting it may lead to decreased athletic performance. One study found that performing static stretches before doing a barbell squat caused individuals to feel off-balance and lift less weight. Another research study showed that soccer players who performed static stretches before a 30-meter sprint had slower times than players who did not stretch before sprints.
Here’s another bummer–some research suggests that stretching won’t do much to eliminate muscle soreness. In a review of 12 studies, researchers found that pre- or post-exercise stretching did not stop troublesome aches and pains. The likely reason? Micro-tears in the muscle and surrounding connective tissue are to blame for soreness, which stretching won’t repair.
The Bottom Line
So the biggest bang for your buck? Perform dynamic stretches before a workout, which can prepare your muscles and even improve athletic performance. With all of the evidence against it, it’s probably wise to avoid static stretches before a workout. But static stretches can certainly be helpful for those of you who spend a lot of time sitting at a desk. Loosen up shoulders, back muscles, hip flexors, and hamstrings with static stretches (post-workout) a few times a week. But your BEST bet…talk to a Physical Therapist about designing a program specifically tailored to your individual goals and abilities–you will thank them when you are injury-free for years to come!
If you or someone you know has questions regarding proper workout programs, including stretching, don’t wait to take action. Call my office at once at (302)691-9055 or visit my website at www.wildermanphysicaltherapy.com and schedule your FREE 30 minute consultation to see how Physical Therapy can help. Don’t delay–schedule now!