Stretching: Which is the best method?
You should always warm up prior to doing exercise. Do not walk straight into the weights room and start lifting with your working weight for that day!!
Main reasons to warm up:
Elevation of Baseline Oxygen consumption
Increase Core temperature
Increased Heart Rate
Improve Muscle stretch reflex
Get mentally ready for your session.
There are two types of stretching: dynamic and static.
Let’s define both of these terms first.
Static: this is when you stretch a muscle for an extended period of time in one position. Static stretching relaxes your musculotendinous unit (ie muscle and attached tendon) and elongates it. An example would be a quadricep stretch when you pull your ankle up behind you and hold.
Dynamic: this is when you actively put your muscles through certain ranges of motion in order to loosen them up. A dynamic stretch routine trains your stretch relax and activates your muscle spindles. This type of stretching can include lower loads of a specific exercise or a variety of different movement patterns.
Which is best?
This depends on when you are going to perform them. I am going to look at before performing your training session.
Research has shown that dynamic stretches are far superior to static stretches if you are aiming to improve performance within a session. In fact, static stretches can actually have a negative impact on performance.
In one study by Nelson et al(2005); participants didn’t stretch at all before doing a 20metre sprint test, they then came back another time and did some static stretching before doing the same test. The results showed that the participants recorded faster times when they didn’t stretch.
Another study by Fowles et al (2000); looked at the relationship between static stretches and strength training. Their results showed that static stretching had a negative impact on performance for up to 60minutes afterwards!
Dynamic stretches are more specific as they are putting your muscles through similar ranges of motion to those which it will be using during your training session. It involves practising your muscle spindle being stretched to the correct length to perform exercises. It is also done at a greater intensity than static stretching so increases your V02, core temperature and heart rate ready for the main portion of your session.
The research from Yamaguchi and Ishii et al (2005), tested leg extension power before and after static, dynamic and no stretching at all. The results showed significant increased power after dynamic stretches, whereas power actually went down after static and non stretching.
So even from this small snapshot of date, you can hopefully see that you need to stretch prior to your training session and that dynamic stretches are the method to choose.
Some of my favourite dynamic stretches which I like to perform prior to exercise, and recommended by Dr Mike Zourdos:
Banded Shoulder Rotations
But what about injury prevention?
I am sure that you have heard that you need to stretch to prevent injuries, I think we have all been told that at one point or other in regards to exercise. However once again the evidence actually doesn’t point to this.
‘Further studies strongly suggest that muscle stretching before exercising does NOT produce meaningful reductions in risk of injury.’
But what about reducing DOMS?
DOMS stands for delayed onset muscle soreness, that feeling in your muscles after you have worked out which sometimes makes you walk a bit funny! Again, I am sure you have been told that stretching will alleviate this feeling? Nope. wrong again.
‘This systematic review finds clear evidence that stretching before or after exercise has no effect on delayed onset muscle soreness.’
If you suffer from DOMs, the best thing to do is keep moving. Take yourself for a walk to get blood flowing. Don’t sit down and refuse to move due to the soreness, you will not help yourself get rid of it any sooner!
Both quotes are from paper by Herbert and Gabriel (2002) titled Effects of stretching before and after exercising on muscle soreness and risk of injury: systematic review.
But what about increasing Range of Motion?
Finally you will be pleased to hear that there is some evidence pointing to the benefits of stretching if you are looking to increase the ROM of certain muscles. A 10 week study tested those which didn’t stretch at all, versus participants who spent 40 minutes stretching 3 days per week. They performed the sit and reach test pre and post experiement. Those which had spent time stretching did improve their sit and reach score.
So what are the conclusions on the best way to stretch?
#1 You should perform dynamic stretching prior to your training session
#2 This should include active mobility drills, bodyweight exercises and aim to put your joints and muscles through specific motions ready for the session.
#3 You should not perform static stretching prior to a training session if performance is your main goal.
#4 Performing stretches will not help prevent injury or DOMS.
#5 If you want to increase your range of motion then doing some stretches will help, just don’t do it before exercise!!
Any questions or comments then please leave below!
Love Abi xxxx
EDIT UPDATE: I have since recorded a Youtube video showing you my routine for warming up! Would love you to check it out 🙂
Images provided by SBS Academy.
Acute effects of passive muscle stretching on sprint performance. Nelson et al (2005). Read Study HERE.
Reduced strength after passive stretch of the human plantarflexors. Fowler et al (2000). Read Study HERE.
Effects of stretching before and after exercising on muscle soreness and risk of injury: systematic review. Herbert and Gabriel (2002). Read Study HERE.