Let’s Talk Stretching:

12 June 2012
Functional Fitness
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You do it before every run, every game, every practice. Before you jump into strenuous activity, you stretch, notifying your body of upcoming physical activity. Coaches, friends, family members all recommend these brief “warmups” understanding the potential injurious pitfalls connected to high-level activity without properly warmed muscles.

However, the way you implement stretching techniques can possibly hinder performance. For many, a pre-training warm-up requires static stretching, a technique involving movements performed to stretch muscles to a point of tension and holding the stretch. This is typically performed over 30-60 second increments per stretch.

Static Stretching

While static stretching techniques may help with your flexibility, research indicates a different story for athletic performance. Instead of limbering muscles for an upcoming workout, training session, or athletic competition, static stretching decreases muscle strength by as much as 30 percent.

By placing your muscles at a point of tension and holding the stretch, you may inhibit your muscles for the tasks they are preparing to do. Such results can disrupt your optimal athletic performance or training.

Additionally, despite our assumptions about stretching as an injury inhibitor, static stretching carries no influence on decreased injury risk and research backs this finding. Additionally, studies suggest static stretching techniques possess little benefit as a true “warm up.”

Dynamic Stretching

Wait! Let’s not get rid of stretching all together. What about dynamic, or active stretching? Dynamic stretching is a collection of sport-specific exercises/movements intended to tune, prepare and facilitate your muscle and joint function for athletic movement. These techniques require body movements that gradually increase reach, range, load and speed of movement.

Studies further suggest dynamic stretching increases flexibility. With added flexibility comes an increase in performance and a decrease in injuries.

For athletes and athletic-minded individuals, the question is not about the value of stretching. The question is what type of stretches should we do? The research strongly proposes dynamic stretching as a successful alternative to static stretching.

It’s the small changes that make the difference between throwing a strike, extending to catch a pass, or winning a photo-finish. So while you work out or train for competitions, consider switching from static-based stretching to dynamic-based stretching.

What sort of stretches do you engage in before training? Have you recently switched from static stretching to dynamic stretching? How did such a change feel? Do you stretch following exercise?
Share your thoughts below.