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Stretching 101: should you stretch before working out?

Stretching 101: should you stretch before working out?

Hey there! Today we’re covering a topic that many of you will be familiar with, but lots of you will also be unsure about…stretching!

Surely many of you remember lying on your back and pulling your foot to the sky to stretch your hamstrings before every soccer or netball game when you were young. This type of stretching (called static stretching) was a staple of every athlete’s pre-workout and competition routine.

However, if you ask any strength coach, manual therapist or personal trainer about stretching before you work out today, you’ll likely get various different answers. Some say this type of stretching is one of the best ways to warm up, while others believe it should be left until after the workout.

Want to know the truth behind this topic? Lucky for you in this newsletter we’ll dig into scientific research to allow you to make the best judgment on static stretching, then we’ll talk about practical ways to integrate static stretching into your program.

 

Should you stretch before working out?

What is stretching?

Stretching a muscle increases your range of motion by decreasing stiffness of the tissue. While there are several different methods to stretching (listed below), we’re focusing on static stretching and its effect on your training.

Static – this is your classic stretch most people think of. For example, if you bend over to touch your toes and hold the tension you feel in your hamstrings, you’re performing a static stretch.

Passive – this is performed when a partner moves your body into a stretch and proceeds to hold the tension while you’re completely relaxed.

Dynamic – this is a controlled movement into stiffness, actively moving within and gently towards the edges of your range of motion without holding or forcing it. Think about performing a deep bodyweight squat, lunge, leg or arm swings.

Ballistic – this involves using your body’s momentum to bounce in and out of stiffness. It’s not recommended by many experts for the fear of potential injury. Martial artists and / or dancers tend to use this style.

PNF – this is an acronym for ‘proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation’ and describes a combination of passive stretching followed by different types of muscular contractions. During the common ‘contract-relax’ PNF stretch, a partner pushes you into a short duration stretch followed by a brief 5-10 second contraction of that stretched muscle. After relaxing, the partner then pushes the muscle further into another stretch.

What does science say?

Many people believe that performing static stretches prior to a workout or athletic competition can help reduce the risk of a muscular strain injury. This is one of the reasons why this type of stretching was so popular 20+ years ago.

However, there’s a growing amount of research showing that this type of stretching before exercise can actually lead to a decrease in strength, power and speed, therefore limiting an athlete’s performance. In fact, the American College of Sports Medicine and European College of Sports Sciences have both come out recently condemning static stretching as a part of a warm-up routine.

When you look at all the research on this topic (over a 100 publications), it’s hard to disagree with this notion at first glance. Though if you look at the details of these published articles, you’ll find it’s not static stretching itself that is the problem but long duration static stretching!

When you compare the actual time of stretching, we find that short duration stretches (typically less than one minute) generally have NO harmful effect on muscular performance while still bringing out improvements in mobility. It’s not until the stretch is held for more than 45-60 seconds that we see significant losses in strength, power and speed.

Another thing to keep in mind – this research is relevant to high performance athletes. And let’s just be honest…very few of us are.

 

In summary, stretching is always better than not, however, different performances requires different stretching protocols and like everything in life, different stretches work best when used at the right time. Always educate yourself and perform within your achievable limits and progress each time to get better, stronger and fitter.

If you have any other questions, would like tailored advice, or want to book in for a massage, you can make an appointment with our fabulous massage therapist, Dane, here.