Let me ask you a question…
Do you warm up properly before you work out?
Do you really take the time to prepare your body for the rigours of exercise?
Yeah, I thought so.
Nobody likes warming up.
It’s sometimes hard enough to motivate yourself to run in the freezing cold before work, let alone when you add in pre-run stretching. You just want to get on with it. If magically, you do find time, it’s probably just a couple of token stretches against the treadmill before pounding out another 30 minute run. Ever since you were young in sports classes, you’ve always been told to stretch before exercise. Your coaches even enforced such behaviour by making you stand round in a circle when all you really wanted to do was get on with the game.
Well, your coaches were wrong.
Yep, all those pre-game stretches. They were a waste of time.
Such rituals may have made you psychologically ready for exercise, but for preventing injury (their intention), they were at best ineffective and at worst, harmful.
Want to know why?
The problem with traditional stretching
Now, before you jump up and down celebrating this revelation, let’s talk about what’s wrong with your stretching. I mean, we’re not here to teach grandma how to suck eggs right? You know how to stretch. Straighten your leg, bend forwards, feel an uncomfortable pull in the back of your leg and hold uncomfortable position for 30 seconds. Repeat three times.
It’s called static stretching. You hold the muscle to be stretched in one position and don’t move it. Voila, you’re ready for aggressive competition.
While it’s accepted that static stretching increases flexibility, it was assumed this resulted in reduced risk of injury during competition. Well in fact, studies have since shown that there is no difference in injury occurrence between groups of athletes who perform static stretches and those who do nothing at all. Even worse is that static stretching before exercise can actually hinder performance. Namely, it can decrease the strength and power output of the stretched muscles, and also the coordination of explosive movements.
Faster sprinting? Nope.
Higher jumping? Forget about it.
Not great prior to exercise.
Before you scrap static stretching altogether however, be aware that these are the effects of static stretching performed immediately prior to exercise. Used as part of a general programme to assist better flexibility, static stretching can be very effective. I would recommend a daily static stretching routine targeting all your major muscle groups. Just ensure you perform these stretches well in advance of your planned exercise. Ok, so if you shouldn’t static stretch before exercise, what should you do instead?
The warm up to do instead
Unfortunately, just because static stretching is out, you’re not excused from warming up altogether. The benefits of warming up are evident. That little jog before exercising increases your core temperature and prepares your heart for exercise. However, you also need to supplement it with dynamic stretching.
‘Wait, dynamic stretching…’, what an earth is that?
Dynamic stretching consists of functional stretches that incorporate movement to replicate your activity or sport. The stretch works by gently propelling your muscles towards their full range of motion, without performing forced, jerky movements or ‘bobbing’ into the stretch. Ideally you want to stretch in a similar way to the movements performed during the exercise to follow. Although replacing one form of stretching with another might not seem like much fun, you can reduce your risk of injury and ensure your body is performing optimally. Studies support the superiority of dynamic compared to static stretching.
So, what’s not to like?
Just look at the following examples to see how to see how you can become a stretching ninja:
The following dynamic stretches would be effective before running.
In this stretch lift your leg as if you’re stepping over a gate. Walk forwards performing the stretch on alternate legs. You can move your leg forwards and backwards.
Heel kicks stretch the quads effectively. You can combine this dynamic stretch with a light jog.
Bend forwards, keeping your leg straight and pull your toes towards you for a calf stretch. At the same time move your hands forwards as if you’re trying to brush the grass with your fingertips. Walk forwards performing the stretch on alternate legs.
Lower your body into a lunge position as you walk to stretch your groin. Perform on alternate legs.
A high kick for your hamstrings.