Static stretching before a competition or sporting event is something that athletes and coaches have been doing for years, however recent studies have found that static stretching is not ideal prior to a workout. It is a controversial topic, but one that deserves a thorough examination. What types of stretching are best? When is it appropriate to stretch? What does stretching accomplish?
What types of stretching are best?
That really depends on your goal. It is now generally accepted that everyone will benefit from a pre-workout “warm-up.” This gets the blood pumping to activate muscles and increase blood and oxygen flow. Static stretching is not a warm-up; in fact, it can actually put the muscles to sleep. The best type of warm-up to do before an activity is one that gets your blood pumping, such as a light jog for 5 minutes, jump-rope or jumping jacks. Dynamic stretching incorporates quick movements to activate power output while still pre-lengthening muscles and lubricating joints. Its purpose is to prepare your body for whatever activity you are about to engage in. These include knee-high jogging, butt-kickers, side shuffles, and carioca. Static stretching is the prolonged holding of a slow stretch for 20 to 30 seconds and its main focus is to increase flexibility and prevent over tightening of muscles that could result in muscle imbalances.
When should we static stretch?
The American Council on Exercise recommends that everyone, sedentary people and athletes alike, engage is static stretching 5 to 7 days per week for about 15 to 20 minutes. It’s best to do static stretching when the muscles are warm because they will stretch further and decrease risk of over stretching and injury. Static stretching is best done after a workout, sport, or competition to help re-lengthen muscles that became tight during activity. If you do not stretch, you will develop muscle imbalances, especially if you engage in one type of activity repetitively. For example, runners rely on calves and hamstrings. If you do not stretch your calves and hamstrings after a run, they will become tight. Tight calves lead to Achilles’ tendon problems or even rupture, knee problems, and foot problems. Tight hamstrings lead to lower back problems, and severe knee problems.
When should we avoid static stretching?
In a study reviewed by Runner’s World, researchers found that static stretching before a run actually resulted in a slower run pace. That over-elongation of muscle that static stretching accomplishes decreases power output, making you less efficient and not able to perform as well. The running heart rate of those runners was higher than the control group, meaning that static stretching made their bodies work harder with negative results.
Save your static stretching for after the workouts. Do a light cardiovascular dynamic warm-up prior to activity.
“Advanced Health and Fitness Specialist Manual”, American Council on Exercise
Amby Burfoot, ” New Study Finds that Static Stretching Pre-Race Diminishes Performance “, Runners World: