Should I be stretching? How do I warm up?
June 26, 2017 | Jane Grainger
There is so much written about stretching and warming up, it is confusing for everyone. Should you stretch before or after running? What are the different types of stretching and are they in fact helpful or harmful?
There are different types of stretching-
- Static stretching involves putting a muscle in a lengthened position, taking it to the end of its range and holding it there for a sustained period of time.
- Dynamic stretching is when a muscle is taken through its range one way then the other repeatedly in a slow and controlled movement.
- Ballistic stretching involves bouncing at the end of range (not recommended unless recommended and under supervision of a Physio)
- PNF / hold relax are forms of stretching/movement used by Physio’s for treating problems.
What stretch should you be doing?
This depends on the reason for stretching, your desired outcome and psychologically how you feel about stretching.
Traditionally static stretching was used pre and post exercise. It is now felt that static stretching before sport or exercise could reduce your performance. For a perfectly healthy injury free individual warming up pre sport, dynamic stretching is thought to be better. However for increasing range of movement / muscle perceived length and maintaining flexibility static stretching is best.
Research has found that static stretching can reduce power and performance however the conclusion was based on a static stretch as the sole activity during warm up and did not consider the benefits of a combined warm up routine. (Simic et al (2012)). It found the effects were small (5.4 – 1.9% reduction in strength, power and explosive performance) and that they were short lived with the effects wearing off after 5-10 minutes. The effects were negligible if the stretch was kept to less than 45 seconds. It also found that short static stretching is recommended for sports requiring greater range of movements such as gymnastics.
Behm et al (2011) in their system review found that dynamic stretching either had no effect or may augment performance. So dynamic stretching may or may not help performance! They then concluded that a combination of sport specific static and dynamic stretches along with dynamic activities would be the best type of warm up. The emphasis is sport specific.
So what should my warm up routine consist of?
This will depend on the activity you are warming up for and for how long you plan on doing the activity.
The longer the duration of the activity the longer the warm up generally speaking. Dynamic stretching and dynamic motions that reflect the movements made during your sport or activity should be mimicked during the warm up. Starting small with the movements and increasing the range, taking the muscle and joint through its full range in a smooth and fluid motion. If your sport requires full range of motion eg dance or martial arts you will need to include some static stretches to increase range at the end of movement range. Also any injuries may require specific stretches or exercises.
I believe including some balance and proprioception work in a warm up can help to switch on the receptors required to prevent injury. Think preventing ankle sprains (inversion injuries) and knee twisting. Also consider multi direction warm up if your activity involves changing directions.
If you have always stretched and warmed up in a certain way and it works for you then don’t stop doing it. If static stretches pre run have always given you the confidence in your calf muscles then great. You need to feel good and believe in your abilities to perform.
How about cooling down?
Again there is mixed thoughts on the effects of stretching post exercise. A study published in the BJSM found that post exercise static stretching reduced the post exercise soreness and also reduced the risk of injury to muscles, ligaments and tendons (Jennifer Trueland CSP Frontline).
Personally I advocate a gentle cool down after exercise, again combining dynamic stretches along with static stretches to increase range of motion, reduce soreness and reduce stiffness. I find a further episode of dynamic and static stretches a couple of hours after exercise helpful. If you are suffering from muscle tightness, or have an injury or persistent reduction in range of motion then regular mini sessions of combined dynamic and static stretching can really help between sports days or sessions.
As a Physio we use static stretches as part of treatments and home exercise programs to increase length and flexibility. There is masses of evidence to support this so don’t stop any stretches you’ve been recommended to do.
Everyone is different and if you are unsure then be guided by your Physiotherapist who can help to devise a specific warm up routine for you.
For more information or to arrange a session with one of our team just drop us an email firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call 01428 609975
Happy warming and stretching 🙂
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