Everybody knows that you should stretch before you workout. But what most people do not know is that experts have been warning against traditional pre-workout stretching for the past 10 years.
There’s more than one kind of stretching. The stretching most of us are used to, from gym class, is known as “static stretching”. This is where you touch your toes, or pull your foot up behind you touching your butt to stretch your quad… and hold the stretch for 30 seconds or more. It’s the style of stretching done in most forms of yoga, and by Physical Therapists when helping rehabilitate injured players.
Static stretching is like Yoga; it helps promote relaxation. That’s why it is recommended to do only after a workout. According to the Center for Disease Control, over 100 independent scientific studies have measured a negative impact of static stretching before exercise. Most of the studies conclude the same thing: holding stretches for more than 8 seconds inhibits the Central Nervous System. It tells your body “we’re getting ready to stop exercising and chill out.” That is why people still get injured so often after warming up with static stretching.
Professional and Division I Athletes no longer warm up with Static Stretching. Instead, they perform a series of movements known as Dynamic Stretching. Dynamic Stretches are stretches done while the body is in movement. It activates the muscles and warms them up while simultaneously lengthening and stretching them.
Dynamic stretches look a little funny at first glance. Some dynamic stretches include things like walking on your tip toes or skipping sideways. But it results in fewer injuries and more explosiveness, as the muscles are literally being trained to activate during the warm up. In many cases, a good Dynamic Warm Up precludes the need for cardio and is a workout in and of itself.
To date, there are few comprehensive instructional guides to proper dynamic stretching. There are many articles on the web and videos on Youtube with sample stretches, and they vary in quality. The most important thing to remember when doing dynamic stretches is to breathe, and ease into them. Some videos demonstrate backward or forward lunges, for example. These moves are very muscle intensive and should never be done as the first move in a routine. Make sure to pay attention to your body and don’t do these movements if they feel too uncomfortable or strenuous.
Most people still now little about dynamic stretching, which is unfortunate. Stretching is like putting oil in your car, but for your body. It is the essential foundation for a good workout. Make sure to learn more about Dynamic Stretching in order to reduce your likelihood of injury, and bring your performance to its highest level.