How Important is Stretching Before a Workout?
I'll be the first to admit...I strongly dislike stretching. Dislike the time it takes, how it makes my muscles feel, and regardless of what anyone says it does not make me feel more flexible. It has long been thought that stretching helped improve performance or somehow reduced the risk of injury. The interesting thing is there is little evidence to suggest that stretching before or after exercise prevents injury or muscle soreness. What the evidence does suggest is that some types of stretching can actually lead to decreases in force production, power production, running speed, and reaction and movement time...which may lead to a decrease in performance. Today I am going to discuss a few of the more popular methods of stretching, when they should be used, and what benefit they may provide. If you do decide to stretch always been sure to warm up beforehand. Let's dive into the fascinating world of stretching (insert sarcasm here):
This type of stretching 99% of the populations thinks of when the word stretch is mentioned. A good example of this is the sitting toe touch where the person sits on the floor with legs extended and gently reaches for their toes. Generally, a static stretch is slow and constant with the end position held for 30 seconds. Static stretching has been shown to increase range of motion and flexibility but beyond that provides little benefit in regards to performance or injury prevention. Usually, I recommend this type of stretching for older clients or to athletes whose sport requires an increased range of motion...such as gymnastics.
Dynamic stretching (as opposed to static stretching) is a functionally based stretching exercise that uses sport-specific movements to prepare the body for exercise. In my opinion, this is the best type of stretching. Dynamic stretching places an emphasis on the movement requirements of the activity rather than individual muscles (as in static stretching). A good example of a dynamic stretch is a walking knee lift that might be used by a sprinter before a competition. Essentially, you can think of a dynamic stretch as actively moving a joint through a range of motion required for an activity. Dynamic stretching is ideal because it warms up the muscles (where static stretching does not), multiple movements can be used to stretch multiple muscle groups with one movement, and it is extremely time efficient. The only downside to dynamic stretching (if there is one) is it is not as good as static stretching when it comes to increasing range of motion.
Ballistic Stretching: (DO NOT RECOMMEND EVER USING!!!!!!):
This type of stretching is the bane of my existence and makes me cringe when I see people doing it. Ballistic stretching involves active muscular effort and uses a bouncing type movement in which the end position is not held. Basically, the person doing this type of stretch looks like they are attached to a rubber band. Ballistic stretching is more likely than other types of stretching to cause damage or injury to a muscle or connective tissue...especially when there has been a previous injury. In addition, BS does not allow the involved muscles to relax and defeats the purpose of stretching. If you like to bounce...get on a pogo stick....but never use ballistic stretching, especially if you have lower back or hamstring injuries.
In sum use static stretching if you are trying to increase flexibility or increase range of motion; use dynamic stretching when preparing for a sport specific activity, and NEVER EVER use ballistic stretching! Always perform your stretching sessions after an appropriate warm-up period