The correct way to stretch
March 30, 2020
Physical activity comes with many benefits. Exercise can make one feel happier, increase energy levels, reduce risk of chronic illness and help with weight loss, among other things. Everyone should incorporate fitness into their daily lives. However, it is important to be aware of the crucialness of proper stretching techniques. Doing the wrong types of stretches can hinder the overall effectiveness of exercise and can even cause injuries.
While it is important to warm up muscles before activity, there is a specific way to do it. Surprisingly to most, static stretches should not be part of this warmup. A good warm-up should activate synovial fluid (lubricant) in joints, raise one’s heartrate, and raise body temperature. All warm-ups should include some type of cardiovascular movement. Athletes should always break a sweat during their warmup. A simple way to do this is to jog around for a few minutes.
Once a sweat has been broken, one should partake in dynamic and full body movements, often called dynamic stretching. Dynamic stretching should not be confused with static stretching, because they are two extremely different things. A static stretch is a stretch held in one position for 10 to 30 seconds. This type of stretching has been found to improve flexibility but is not beneficial before exercise. Sport science researchers have discovered that using static stretches as a warmup can lower jumping heights, slow running speeds, and decrease lifting strength—without reducing the chances of getting injured.
Muscles are made up of bundles of tiny fibers. The idea behind static stretching is to make the muscles’ fibers more pliable and less likely to get torn or strained. This idea has been proven wrong, as studies have found that there is little (if any) benefit to stretching before exercise. In fact, stretching a tight muscle that has not been warmed up properly could actually increase the likelihood of injury.
A study done in 2013 found that static stretching impaired strength output in people who were weight lifting when compared to lifters who performed a type of dynamic warmup. Stretching before exercise is counterproductive because it makes the muscles loose and tendons too stretchy, and the soft tissues are less able to produce quick and powerful responses as desired.
Dynamic stretches that should be done before exercise include arm circles, leg swings, squats, walking lunges, jumping jacks, high kicks, ankle rotations and so on. Movements like these have been proven to increase power, agility, speed, and strength performance.
While not to be used during preparation for physical activity, static stretches have their time and place. They are most beneficial once a work out is complete, and can be used as part of a cool-down. Once muscles have been worked and warmed for a while, static stretches can keep them for becoming overly tight and sore.
Exercise may seem simple, intricate preparations must be done to ensure maximum benefits are reached. Stick to dynamic movements during warmups to get the most out of a tough workout.