Should you stretch before working out?
We have always been told that stretching is good for us and it improves performance. But does it really? It all depends on the kind of stretch and when you stretch. There are two kinds of stretches; static and dynamic. The difference between the two is that in a static stretch you hold the joints for an extended period of time whereas a dynamic stretch is an active stretching routine that has you slowly moving to increase your heart rate and pump extra blood to your muscles.
In short, dynamic stretching is ‘stretching as you are moving’. When you sit down and hold your toes for 30 seconds it is a static stretch. Examples of dynamic stretches are walking lunges, leg swings, arm swings, high knee marching, etc.
We have all done static stretches as an automatic part of our exercise routine. We hold stretches for 60 seconds each and then go hit the track or lift weights. However, these kinds of static stretches will actually impede your performance and make you slow and weak for the specific activity you are going to embark on.
It may come as a surprise to some but static stretching before a run may actually impair performance. Instead of static stretches it is better to do dynamic stretches. Current research detailed in medicine and sport suggests that dynamic stretches are the most appropriate exercises for warming up whereas static stretches are most appropriate for the cool down at the end of the session.
If the purpose of a warm-up is to warm up the body then static stretching negates the purpose as it actually cools down the body.
Whether you are going for a run or to lift weights, your body needs to be prepared for the intensity of whatever workout is ahead.
Benefits of a dynamic stretch versus static stretch
- A dynamic stretch means your body is continuously moving even while stretching, so if the purpose of a warm-up is to increase body temperature it is better to do a dynamic stretch. A static stretch will result in your muscles core temperature dropping and can hinder your performance.
- Dynamic stretching will prepare you for the specific sport that you are going to start. Static stretching has no relevance to the kind of sport you are about to perform.
- Dynamic stretches are great at elevating the heart rate before intense exercises, which can prepare the nervous system for peak output.
- Dynamic stretching gets you mentally prepared for the game ahead whereas a static stretch is more relaxing and can trick your body into a relaxation mode. This will make the transition from rest period to competitive mode more difficult.
In conclusion, a warm-up that does not include dynamic stretching does not prepare the muscles for the task ahead and can potentially inhibit your performance.