I don’t know about you but the thought of stretching is like nails on a chalk board. I have harbored a slight hatred towards it since I was a kid. I always felt like I was wasting precious time. Whether it was getting ready to play kickball as a youngster, or psyching myself up for some intense HIIT. I have had numerous people and coaches tell me that stretching before working out was a must. The idea of flexibility and stretching as the proper way to prevent injury, reduce muscle soreness, and increase performance sounds correct and logical on the surface…but is it?
[Stretching before lifting will make you weaker for that particular exercise]
I’m Want To Pull My Hair Out!… But Only After 20 Minutes Of Touching My Toes
The importance of stretching was drilled in my head as a kid all the way up to college baseball. I remember times when pre practice stretching would last upwards of twenty minutes or more. I seriously couldn’t stand it. Not only did I feel like we were wasting our time, but I never felt as explosive and strong as I did with just a quick warm up. It seemed like I ran my fastest and threw my hardest when my muscles were “slightly stiff.” If stretching prior to competition was so important, why did it seem to work against me all the time? Before we take a look at what the experts say, I’ll give you the goods right away for you internet skimmers.
For Those Who Just Want The Summary
I figured I would simply give you the summary of my findings for those who could care less about the research. I understand people value their time so they simply want to know “is it good or bad?” So here it is:
- Properly warming up the muscles in a dynamic approach is highly beneficial. This is achieved by allowing a full range of motion but done in a lighter manner.
- You don’t need to stretch before exercising because it reduces strength and power, thus making you weaker.(static)
- If increasing flexibility is of importance to you, 1 stretch per body part for under 30 seconds/day is plenty. There is no need to hold stretches for minutes on end.( University of Central Arkansas: )
Note: Be smart and realize that there are exceptions for things. Especially requiring a different approach like specialy sports(gymnastics) or with the use of injury rehab.
Dynamic And Static Stretching/Flexibility
I will try and make this as short as possible so that it isn’t a “snooze” to read.
1. Dynamic(Active) Flexibility: You are using a full range of motion to help with flexibility. Think of a movement that slowly stretches the muscles while you are moving. (Ex: High knees, butt kicks, throwing motions, etc)
2. Static(Passive) Flexibility: Holding and extended position with tension for a longer period of time. This can be done with your own weight or assisted weight. (Ex: touching your toes, arm holds, doing the splits)
Does Stretching Before Working Out Prevent Injuries?
For nerds like us who like to see the research side: “Static (Passive) Stretching”
- An Australian army physiotherapist named Rod Pope conducted a study over a year with upwards of 1,600 recruits to determine the relationship between injury prevention and static stretching. He found that those who performed static stretches and those who didn’t, had no difference in preventing injury. ( www.pponline.co.uk, So what about dynamic flexibility. Rod Pope, ‘Skip the warm-up,’ New Scientist, 164(2214), p. 23)
- In the book “Sports Medicine” by Gleim & McHugh, challenged the idea of stretching and increasing flexibility as a way to prevent injury. (Gleim & McHugh (1997), ‘Flexibility and its effects on sports injury and performance,’ Sports Medicine, 24(5), pp. 289-299)
What About Explosive Movements And Strength?
There are so many studies that point to muscle strength decreasing in static stretches that it is mind boggling. Strength can reduce close to 30% right after stretching. Although they can’t figure out why explosive movements and strength decrease with static holds, I think it has a lot to do with the muscles losing its ability to contract hard and quickly. Here are some studies:
- Research shows that static stretching decreases muscle strength close to 10% for one hour after the stretch. It is also important to note that eccentric strength decreases by 7% when the hamstring is specifically stretched.(Mick Critchell, Warm Ups For Soccer: A Dynamic approach, page 5)
- A very good study for athletes: They found that the muscles used for explosive movements like the hamstrings, quads, and calf muscles, reduced quite a bit with only three 15-second stretches. A decrease in specific coordination also decreased. (Knudson, D., K. Bennet, R. Corn, D. Leick, and C. Smith. 2000. Acute Effects of Stretching Are Not Evident in the Kinematics of the Vertical Jump. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport vol. 71, no. 1 (Supplement), p. A-30. Tomas Kurz, www.scienceofsports.com)
- Wayne State College: Study shows a 5% decrease in bicep strength after static stretches.
- McMaster University: Study shows a 30% decrease in calf strength after the muscle was stretched. This study also displayed a decrease in strength in the calf muscle almost an hour after the initial stretch.
What About Reducing Muscle Soreness?
A study that researched several types of stretching was done at the University of Sydney by Rob D Herbert. He concluded that stretching does not seem to present a reduction or prevention of muscle soreness. Although he admits that that generality of his findings on injury prevention still needs further research, he says a lot of evidence is against it.
Flexibility And Stretching: Dynamic And Static Don’t Equate
Whether you are warming up to lift weights or for sprinting, dynamic and static stretching can create a deficit in flexibility. What I mean is this: Stretching a muscle to “improve” flexibility in a static manner, will not improve flexibility in the same way as if you were to do it in a dynamic fashion. This is why a lot of stretches out there can create this imbalance (deficit), thus increasing the likelihood of injury.
A Full R.O.M Increases Flexibility And Performance
If you want to increase your dynamic flexibility, then optimizing a full range of motion is key. This is the kind of mindset that you want in regards to flexibility and stretching. Optimizing a full range of motion will increase that range of motion in whatever exercise that you are performing. The only problem is that it can be tough to do when your muscles aren’t warmed up. We have a solution for that!
Warming Up The Right Way: From A Lifting Perspective
We have learned that stretching before working out reduces strength and performance, so that is the last thing that we want when lifting weights. So to properly warm up you will want to lift lighter weights using a full range of motion. While lifting you are going to “pretend” that the weight is really heavy. Grab the weight as hard as you can and flex the surrounding muscles really hard while lifting. Stick to a slow and controlled movement like you would with heavy weights. Not only will this warm up the muscles, but it is a great way for you to learn how to increase strength and muscle tone. For more on how to increase muscle tone without adding size check out: “Understanding True Muscle Tone And How To Get It” and Enhance Your Upper Body Strength With Thick Bar Training