For ages it’s been recommended from gym classes to sports practice that you need to stretch before exercise as a way to warm up the muscles and prepare them for work. What you might not have known though is that there are 2 drastically different types of stretching and performing the wrong one before exercise could actually leave you weaker and cause you to be more prone to injury.
If you want to ensure you’re performing at your best and not setting yourself up for a trip to the doc, you need to read this article...
Two Types of Stretching
The two types of stretching I’m talking about are static stretching and dynamic stretching. As previously mentioned, there is a drastic difference between the two and if you’re not careful you could be setting yourself up for injury if you’re using them incorrectly.
Both dynamic and static stretching serves an important function, but I think it’s a misnomer to call them both stretching because to be honest only one of them is actually used for the purpose of lengthening your muscles. Let’s look at these two activities separately.
Dynamic Stretching is a type of activity that uses very little to no resistance to move through a full range of motion around a particular joint. With this style of stretching, you do not stop or hold any position. Instead, you keep contracting and extending around the joints that you intend to use, as a method to warm up prior to exercise.
Warming up prior to exercise becomes an escalating necessity as we age due to the enhanced susceptibility to injury. The muscle contractions generate a small amount of heat that allow the muscles to become less stiff and thus less prone for muscle strains.
The more significant feature is the effects of dynamic stretching on the joint itself. As the joint is moving, synovial cells are activated to release a lubricant called synovial fluid that allows the joint to move freer, with less friction, and with less pain when enduring heavy lifts.
In short, dynamic stretching is a key component to priming the muscles and joints to perform at their best while also reducing the risk of injury and therefore should be conducted before exercise commences. The use of dynamic stretching after exercise is futile since your muscles are already warm and dynamic stretching will not have any significant impact on lengthening the muscles or increasing flexibility.
Static stretching on the other hand is exactly the opposite to dynamic stretching. It is indispensable after exercise, and is not advised prior to exercise.
Static stretching is the stretch you stop and hold for a minimum of 30 seconds and up to 2 minutes for the purpose of lengthening the muscle and improving mobility over time.
To get the proper stimulus, you will want the intensity to be past your comfort zone without feeling any intense pain. By holding a stretch with that intensity and duration, the contractile proteins of that muscle will separate to a non-optimal position for force generation.
With chronic static stretching over time, the muscle responds by synthesizing additional contractile proteins in series, to alleviate the constant stretch, making the muscle longer and thus allowing for that entire range to then become functional strength.
For power sports, a larger functional range of motion translates to more speed and power because the synthesis of additional contractile proteins in a series means the muscle can contract over a larger range in the same amount of time and with the same level of effort. Therefore, static stretching can have a huge impact on performance in the long run.
However, it’s not something you want to do prior to exercise for a couple reasons.
The first and foremost reason is that while the chronic effects of static stretching improves performance, the acute effects of static stretching actually decreases performance.
As already mentioned, the stimulus for static stretching is to separate the contractile proteins out of their optimal ranges. Studies show that static stretching immediately before an exercise causes significant decreases in power and speed.
The second reason is that exercise may undo the stimulus of static stretching. If you consider that the stimulus for static stretching is the lengthening of the contractile proteins, then a workout of intense muscle contractions will promptly bring the contractile proteins tighter together, and this may negate the stimulus of the stretch.
Performance, Tightness & Flexibility
Stretching your muscles do not only help to improve speed and power. When I was growing up, nobody told me the significant health implications of stretching. I learned the hard way, that if you only focus on exercise performance and muscle growth without static stretching, the chronic contractions will cause your muscles to grow in a shortened position.
It may only take a few years of muscle growth without stretching that can cause extreme muscle tightness that begins to limit your range of motion, which is very difficult to reverse.
Tight muscles also are more prone to unpleasant conditions such as muscle spasms, adhesions, trigger points and you may require painful treatment to overcome them.
The simple preventative measure is to statically stretch the working muscles after exercise to keep your muscles in the lengthened position as they grow.
To improve flexibility, it is recommended that you stretch those muscles even on non-training days as lengthening your muscles is something that happens over time with chronic exposure.
The Bottom Line on Stretching
The bottom line is that dynamic stretching has important health implications when employed prior to exercise and is meaningless after exercise. Static stretching, on the other hand, is a necessary component during a post workout cool down phase and can be detrimental to your workout if done prior to exercise. By using these two techniques properly, you can get the most out of your workouts while minimizing the susceptibility to injury.
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