The Surprising Truth About Pre-Performance Stretching

The Surprising Truth About Pre-Performance Stretching

Have you ever stretched before exercise? I’m betting you have. And you probably still do. I’m right there with you!

I grew up, as most of us did, with sports teams that stretched in big circles as a team, holding each static stretch for 10 seconds before moving onto the next.

Funny thing is, we’ve been duped. With 62% of sports injuries occurring in PRACTICE, this seemingly preventative measure is not as it seems. Look at the *supposed* purposes of stretching next to the evidence…

The Evidence Against Pre-Performance Stretching

1. To prevent injury or muscle soreness.

Hundreds of studies prove that stretching does not prevent injury or muscle soreness (McGuff & Little, 2009).

In fact, a 2010 study tracked injuries in 1400 runners for three months. Half the group was assigned to a 3 – 5 minute stretching routine before their workout. The other half did not stretch. In the end, both groups had 16% injury rate, proving there’s no benefit to stretching (Pereles, Roth & Thompson, 2010).

2. To “warm-up” and improve flexibility.

As Dr. Doug McGuff explains in Body by Science:

Stretching does not ‘contract’ muscles, and since contraction is what draws blood into a muscle and generates metabolic activity to provide a ‘warm-up,’ there is no warming up imparted by stretching… Putting a ‘cold’ muscle in its weakest position (fully stretched) and [applying] a load of sorts… is one sure way to injure it” (McGuff & Little, 2009).

{Deep, isn’t it?}

3. To improve strength and performance.

Decreased Strength:

A 2006 study by the American College of Strength found subjects that did six 30-second stretches prior to a one-rep-max test of knee flexion DECLINED strength by 12.4 percent (Nelson, Winchester, Kokkonen, 2006)!

Decreased Performance:

Results from 23 studies showed that when stretching was performed at times other than BEFORE performance, there may be positive outcomes, but stretching pre-performance may have insignificant or negative performance outcomes (Kravitz, 2009).

Now that we know static stretching before exercise does not enhance any performance markers, what are the best ways to maximize these things – flexibility, injury prevention and muscle soreness, strength, and performance – both BEFORE and AFTER exercise?

Truth about stretching

The Ideal Warm-Up

1. Sports Specific Movements

Do this exactly as it sounds. If you’re going to play basketball, then start warming up with some shots and light jogging up and down the court.

If you’re going to play tennis, start volleying shots back and forth, and start with varying speed drills like in a tennis game.

If you’re going to lift weights, warm-up with light weight or body weight movements.

Gradually increase the intensity until you get a sweat going!

Total Time: 10 – 20 minutes

2. Dynamic Stretching

Dynamic stretching involves active movements of muscle that bring forth a stretch but aren’t held in the end position.

It is the opposite of static stretching, and works by sending signals from the brain to the muscle fibers and connecive tissues to prepare them to do work.

It also gets the blood flow moving to the area, and improves range of motion and flexibility (Norcal, 2011). Science has shown that it improves speed and performance, too, unlike static stretching (Musham & Hayes, 2010)!

Examples of dynamic stretching movements include:

  • A warm-up run for 400 meters
  • Skipping to the highest height for 20 yards
  • Leg swings
  • Body weight movements like lunges, air squats, and jump squats

Here’s a great example of a dynamic warm-up for NBA basketball players.

Total Time: Aim for 10 – 20 minutes.

Note: There’s no need to do both sports-specific warm-up AND the dynamic stretching warm-up; you can choose either, or you can do both if you want a more thorough warm-up!

3. Injury – Consult a Doctor and/or Sports Trainer

In the event of an injury or fracture, contact your doctor and/or a sports trainer for advice on how to best warm-up pertaining to a specific injury.

For chronic injuries like sprained ankles, complete full ranges of joint motion to warm up the proprioceptors, or sensory receptors in the joints, tendons and muscles. For example, sit down and circle your left ankle 5 circles to the right, and then 5 circles to the left. Repeat for the right ankle.

The Ideal Cool Down

1. Active Stretching

Basically, finish how you started. Slowly jog and incorporate dynamic stretching movements (like leg swings).

Another way: Pick a stretch, such as a hip flexor stretch, and slowly ease into and then out of the stretch so that it’s a slow motion movement. Repeat several times and move on to the next leg. Here are a few examples.

2. Static Stretching

Now is the time to incorporate static stretching, which can help minimize soreness!

For each position, it is ideal to hold over 30 seconds for the muscle to relax. Holding the position for as long as 3 – 5 minutes per stretch is optimal.

Here’s to a spreading the new stretching paradigm, and to better health, performance, strength, flexibility, and reduced injuries in your world!

Want more? Check out my sports nutrition tips and exercise ideas!

……………………………

Julia of Jules' FuelJulia Visser is a self-proclaimed organic foodie, athlete and fitness lover, traveler, wanna-be chef, outdoors fanatic, & purpose-driven lifestyler en route to a Master’s in Holistic nutrition. In addition to her studies, she currently works for a functional medicine doctor, consults on sports nutrition with college level sports teams, blogs at Jules’ Fuel (www.julesfuel.com), and lives overseas most of the year with her professional basketball-playing husband.

Her passion is to inspire and help others fuel themselves towards a higher state of true health, where there’s an intuitive interconnection between body, mind, and soul. Because that’s what we all deserve; to live an incredibly rich life in joy, purpose, impact, and HEALTH!

References
Kravitz, Len. Stretching – A Research Retrospective. Idea Health and Fitness Association. November 2009. http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/stretching-research-retrospective.
McGuff, Doug and Little, Joe. Body by Science. New York, New York: McGraw Hill, 2009.
Musham, C., Hayes, P.R. Effect of pre-exercise stretching on repeat sprint performance. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2010; 44. http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/44/14/i27.3.abstract.
Nelson, A.G., Winchester, J.B., Kokkonen, J. A Single Thirty Second Stretch Is Sufficient to Inhibit Maximal Voluntary Strength. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 38 Suppl. no. 5. May 2006.
Pereles, Daniel, Roth, Alan, Thompson, Darby. A Large, Randomized, Prospective Study of the Impact of a Pre-Run Stretch on the Risk of Injury in Teenage and Older Runners. USA Track & Field. 20 August 2010. http://www.usatf.org/stretchStudy/StretchStudyReport.pdf.
What is Dynamic Stretching? Why is Dynamic Stretching Important? Norcal Strength & Conditioning. 20 May 2011. http://www.norcalsc.com/what-is-dynamic-stretching-why-is-dynamic-stretching-important.

photo credit: Nicholas_T via photopin cc

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