July 16 2015

To Stretch or Not to Stretch?

To Stretch or Not to Stretch?

Written by Megan Brandt, RevUp Health Coach

At one point or another, you’ve heard it—if you want to increase flexibility, prevent injuries and relax muscles, you have to stretch.  But what may come as a surprise to you is that stretching has been scrutinized lately. Some studies¹ have shown that static stretching may negatively impact power before an exercise such as sprinting or lifting weights. There are also studies showing this type of stretching can increase chance of injury and effect performance, especially when it’s done before a workout. 

So What is Static Stretching? And Should You Avoid It?

Static stretching is the type of stretching you’re probably more familiar with. It’s when a stretch is held at the first point of resistance for 20-60 seconds with the goal of increasing joint range of motion. This long duration hold allows for the relaxation and elongation of the muscle and connective tissues, which causes mechanical and neurological adaptations.

Research has conflicting evidence on the use of static stretching prior to activity to enhance performance and decrease injury. Stretching prior to activity ensures sufficient range of motion at the joints in order to perform optimally and decreases muscle stiffness to prevent injuries. However, studies show that static stretching before exercise will lead to a loss of strength in the muscle after the stretch is completed. If that’s a little confusing, just remember these facts of static stretching:

Benefits of Static Stretching:

  • Increased range of motion
  • Corrects muscle imbalances
  • Easy and safe to do on your own
  • Great for general aches and pain 


When to Avoid Static Stretching:

  • Before an intense/explosive cardio activity
  • Before weight lifting

 

butterfly-stretch-web.pngButterfly Stretch:

Sit on the floor with  legs folded in front of you in a diamond shape with soles of your feet together. Sit as upright and tall as possible, keeping your head aligned with your spine. Place your hands on the top of your feet. Engage abdominals to stabilize your spine. Exhale and gently bend forward from your hips. Place elbows against insides of thighs and push thighs downward. Keep back flat and head aligned with your spine. Continue to press downward, holding this position for 15 - 30 seconds, then relax by returning to starting position. Repeat 2-4 times. 



The Other Form of Stretching You Might Not be Doing 

To avoid possible stretch-induced strength-loss, include dynamic stretching before activity. This type of stretching starts from the joint's neutral position. A slow movement occurs in the limb to its end range, and then slowly returns to the neutral position with an eccentric contraction. This contraction allows the lengthening muscle to relax. Move through your dynamic stretching using a challenging, but comfortable range of motion repeatedly, usually 10-12 times. Each movement should be controlled, smooth, and deliberate.

Dynamic stretching improves functional range of motion and mobility in sports as well as everyday activities—a real win-win situation, so make sure to build it in before your workout! Check out all of the perks you can experience from dynamic stretching:

Benefits of Dynamic Stretching

  • Increase blood flow
  • Increase range of motion
  • Increased power
  • Improved balance and coordination
  • More efficient neuromuscular activation
  • Increased speed of contraction
  • Improvements in mental prepare


Dynamic stretching focuses on many different muscle groups at one time, giving you a more well rounded warm-up.  Try dynamic stretches like leg swings, lunges with torso rotations, arm circles, power skips, inchworms, and high knees to get a nice stretch and also raise heart rate as the blood begins to flow to all parts of the body.

 

torso-twists-web.png

Torso Twists:

Stand with feet shoulder width apart with arms bent and raised at shoulder height and parallel to the floor. Rotate torso 90 degrees to the left, facing the left side with your upper body and your feet and legs still facing forward. Hold for a few seconds, tighten abdominals, and return to the starting position. Repeat on the same side 15-20 times, then switch sides. 

 

 

 

 

Your Pre and Post Workout Stretch Plan

So overall, static stretching alone prior to activity is not advisable and dynamic movement is a better option. Your warm up should consist of easy movement drills to elevate your body’s core temperature and dynamic stretches to get your body ready for exercise. Include static stretching after your workout as a part of the cool-down process. Don’t have time to include static stretching at the end of your workout? Then try a yoga or pilates class instead! 

On RevUp? Log your stretching session and use the tag Stretching. Share your experience with your RevUp Health Coach.

 

About Megan Brandt, MS, RevUp Health Coach

meganfinal-web.jpgCredentials: Master of Science (MS) in Exercise Science and Health Promotion
Certified Athletic Trainer, National Athletic Training Association
Certified Personal Trainer, National Academy of Sports Medicine
Certified Corrective Exercise Specialist, National Academy of Sports Medicine

Specialties: Fitness assessments and programming, corrective exercise, injury rehabilitation, and health promotion.

More about me: I am originally from Appleton, WI and received my MS from CALU of Pennsylvania after I was awarded the Pursuit of Excellence in Health and Fitness Award.  I previously operated my own personal training business for six years and prior to that I worked as a personal trainer and an athletic trainer in a variety of settings, such as clinics, colleges, high schools, and health clubs.

 

 

 

Sources:
1. McHugh, M. P., & Cosgrave, C. H. (2010). To stretch or not to stretch: the role of stretching in injury prevention and performance. Scandinavian Journal Of Medicine & Science In Sports20(2), 169-181.

 

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