Chances are you were told that you should stretch before a workout. A little arm stretch here and a little hamstring stretch there … good to go. However, over the years, research has determined that old school static stretches are not necessarily the best things to do before your workout. Is stretching before a workout necessary? The better question is what kind of stretching is helpful before you begin exercise?
What Kind of Stretching is Helpful Before a Workout?
Static stretching is a technique to stretch muscles while the body is at rest. Some types of static stretches include the shoulder stretch, side bends, hamstring and calf stretches. These stretches are generally held for about 30 seconds, as that is how long it takes for a muscle to gradually lengthen and muscle fibers to elongate.
Dynamic stretching involves using active movements that mimic your actual workout to warm up and stretch your muscles. For example, many athletes, especially runners, perform dynamic stretches like walking lunges and butt kicks to help activate the muscles used in running.
In a 2012 issue of the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, researchers noted,
Stretching performed as part of a warm-up prior to exercise is thought to reduce passive stiffness and increase range of movement during exercise. In general, it appears that static stretching is most beneficial for athletes requiring flexibility for their sports (e.g. gymnastics, dance, etc.). Dynamic stretching may be better suited for athletes requiring running or jumping performance during their sport such as basketball players or sprinters.[note]Phil Page, “Current Concepts in Muscle Stretching for Exercise and Rehabilitation“, Int J Sports Phys Ther, 2012 Feb; 7(1): 109–119.[/note]
Dynamic stretching can also help reduce your risk of injury and improve athletic performance. Another research study found that university wrestlers who completed a dynamic warm-up for four weeks saw measurable improvements in their strength, endurance and agility. Dynamic stretching reduces injury because you’re not forcing your muscles to stretch, like in static stretching.
If you’re not sure how to start adding pre-workout stretching to your workout, then talk to one of our staff members today or take one of our fitness classes. So, next time you hit the gym, skip the boring old hamstring stretch and try out some leg swings. You might find that you even run faster!