What is the first thing many people do before they go for a run or begin a workout? Stretch! This has been drilled into our thinking. If there were deadly sins of running, not stretching would be on the top of the list. It is common to see runners standing, holding one foot behind them, stretching their quads, or sitting on the ground doing a hamstring stretch. We have been told to hold the stretch for 15-90 seconds, and not to bounce. These kind of stretches are known as static stretches, and they are what we have been taught to do. As a runner, I have never been very disciplined about stretching, and so I was interested in what many coaches and trainers are now saying is a better kind of pre-workout warm up. Some people call it dynamic stretching, and if you show up at a track meet or a basketball game these days, you will likely see athletes continuously moving rather than staying in one place stretching before competition.
Research is showing that prolonged static stretching before an activity or competition causes decreased muscular production, which can last up to an hour after stretching. In other words, there is a period of time after static stretching where the muscle is weakened because it remains in a stretched position. Physical therapist, Alan Tyson, owner of Architech Sports, explains that a muscle put into a stretched position for a period of time, relaxes. If an athlete goes right into an activity and calls on that muscle to work, it doesn’t have the same power and could actually set the athlete up for an injury.
What does he suggest doing instead? Some of his recommendations for dynamic stretching are high knee lifts while walking, skipping, light jumping, butt kicks, and hopping. These pre-workout activities warm up the muscles but don’t relax them too much. To me this makes sense because you will engage the muscle in a similar manner when you start running or exercising. Tyson is not suggesting giving up on streching. In fact, if we follow his advice, we will be spending more time doing it. The dynamic stretching is done before a workout and the static stretching is reserved for afterwards. As someone who rarely does much stretching at all, I think this is asking a lot! But it really makes sense. I guess I not only need to become more disciplined before I run, but now, after I run as well!
What kind of pre-workout stretching are you doing? If you are doing dynamic stretching, what are some of your favorites? How about after your workout?