Author: Scott Smith
Ok, metaphorical show of hands … who here thinks you should do static stretches before working out? Yea, my hand used to be up too. I certainly bought into the whole pre-exercise stretch phenomena. In fact, I believe MOST people have long been under the impression that NOT stretching before doing exercise is a total sin. So why did it make this fitness myth list thing?
Well, here’s the deal with stretching… not all stretches are created equal. And not all stretches are ideal either.
So let’s define the three main categories of stretching before deciding if pre-exercise flexibility work is beneficial.
- Static Stretching – A static stretch is slow and constant, with the end position held for approximately 30 seconds (Think bent toe touch stretch for the back and hamstrings).
- Ballistic Stretching – Similar positions as a static stretch, except the stretch is quick and rapid and does not hold the end position. (Like bouncing during a sit and reach test).
- Dynamic Warm-Up – Doing an exercise or sports specific movement in a controlled manner through the full range of motion. (Like doing deep walking lunges to stretch the hip flexors, glutes, and hamstrings).
Let’s start with ballistic stretching… just don’t do it. Before a workout, after, ever. Whenever I see someone bouncing in and out of a stretch at the gym I just cringe. This is a more advanced technique for trained athletes only. Very high on the injury prone spectrum and not worth the reward for most. Moving on…
There is NO research to support performance benefit, injury prevention, or muscle reduction from static stretching pre-exercise. In fact, there is even the possibility that static stretching may actually DECREASE performance due to the cooling effect this type of stretch can have on the muscles as well as the possibility of over-stretching a muscle and consequently inhibiting stretch reflex or momentarily reducing joint integrity.
I’m not saying don’t do static stretches, just don’t focus on them BEFORE exercise. Static stretching is a great way to increase joint range of motion but better suited after the muscles and other connective tissue have reached a higher temperature (so post exercise or post vigorous warm-up).
So what do I have my clients do before a workout? Dynamic warm-up. My clients hate that I call it a “warm-up” cause it feels a lot like working out, which is the point. We focus on doing low intensity movements that simulate what we are gonna focus on that day and we do them through a FULL range of motion so we get a dynamic and natural stretch.
One example would be having my clients do a small set of deep pushups into shoulder rotation prior to a heavy bench press day. This type of mobility work increases blood flow, muscle temperature, and mental connection to the muscles we are going to be stressing and leads to a safer and more effective workout.
If you have questions about putting together a safe dynamic warm-up for your run, lift, or sport please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, I would love to help you out!
Oh, and please share!