WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH STRETCHING BEFORE EXERCISE?
Over the years, many of us have heard that it is important to stretch before exercise. Coaches, trainers, and gym teachers have insisted that without stretching before exercise, you increase the likelihood of injuring yourself. But is stretching really as important as everyone says it is? And what type of stretching is best?
If you played sports in high school or participated in physical education classes as a child, you may be familiar with the obligatory warm-up stretches that are commonly performed before a competition or prior to working out. These stretches often consist of sustaining a given position for 30-60 seconds. The goal of this form of warm-up, known as static stretching, is to increase tissue flexibility. For decades this technique has been the gold standard, but research now suggests that when performed before exercise, static stretching may do more harm than good.
The effects of static stretching can be attributed to a neuromuscular response known as autogenic inhibition. In simpler terms, when a stretch is held for more than a few seconds, the muscle will reflexively relax. This is actually a protective mechanism that prevents muscles from exerting more force than the bones and tendons can tolerate. As a result, while the straining muscle may feel looser, it is also weaker and less responsive, which is definitely not how an athlete wants to begin a workout or competition. Keep in mind that this does not mean that all static stretching is bad; it can still be a very useful tool to prevent or recover from an injury, as long as it is not performed directly before a workout.
So what should you do before exercise instead of static stretching? A well-designed warm-up should incorporate dynamic stretching, which requires your body to be in motion. This allows for an increase in flexibility without inhibiting muscle strength.
In addition to improving range of motion, dynamic stretching has several other benefits that make it an excellent component of any workout. When active movement is combined with stretching, your brain sends signals to your muscles and connective tissue to start working. Your heart pumps more blood to the active areas of your body, which provides your muscles with increased oxygen and the ability to replenish energy as it is consumed. As a result, your muscles will have increased strength and power when you exercise.
Another advantage of dynamic stretching is that it can be customized to incorporate movements that are similar to what will be required during your workout. Next time you hit the gym try incorporating dynamic stretches into your routine and see if you notice a difference in your performance! Not sure which dynamic stretches are right for you? Feel free to ask the PT 360 team for some tips!