There is alot of discussion these days in regards to the importance of having a stretching routine as part of your workout program, and what type of stretches you should do. With most people quitting an exercise program due to injury, and about one third of injuries being skeletal muscle injuries, the importance of prevention is high. Those of you like me with a few miles under your belts will remember your old high school coach having you cold stretching, using what are called ballistic stretches.This usually consisted of the sports team sitting in a circle and bouncing various body parts in a contorted fashion. This type of stretching is hardly, if ever used anymore, as it is very prone to causing injury.
Most people today perform a static stretching routine after a brief warm-up and often after a brief cool-down at the end of a workout. Static stretching calls for a period of time, usually 10 to 60 seconds, whereby the muscles are lengthened, with only minor discomfort. This type of stretching does have some drawbacks however. When used prior to a workout or competition, static stretching has shown to be ineffective or even detrimental to performance, especially when it comes to explosive movements or strength output. Used after a workout or competition, static stretching can be helpful in lengthening muscles after a period of constant contracting, thus easing tightness and returning your flexibility.
The use of dynamic stretching before a workout or competition is now being used by most top level athletes. In this type of stretching, the warm-up and stretching routine can be combined. Using a series of stretches that mimic sport specific movements, such as butt kicks for running, or leg kicks and punches for martial arts. Dynamic stretches prepare the body for exactly the type movements it will encounter in the coming workout, while maintaining an elevated core body temperature. Dynamic stretching also helps the nervous system and motor ability better than static stretching does. Numerous studies have shown vast improvement in performance over time, when dynamic stretching is used before a workout or competition vs. no improvement or even detrimental effects from static stretching before a workout or competition.
In addition to static stretching and dynamic stretching there are other forms of stretching such as AIS (active isolated stretches) and PNF (propioceptive neuromuscular facilitation). The latter being designed to be done with assistance from someone trained in this area, such as an athletic trainer or a physical therapist. There also is SFMR (self myofacial release) or what is commonly known as using a foam roller or stick. This is a highly beneficial method of reducing injury, especially injuries like iliotibial band or tight calf muscles. SFMR can be done unassisted and is almost as effective as any sports massage you will get.
In conclusion, the need to stretch as well as warm-up and cool-down for injury prevention and performance enhancement is crucial. A warm up routine of dynamic stretching using sport or activity specific movements, coupled with a cool-down and then static stretching, is a good way to reduce or nearly eliminate most sports injuries and pain. Couple these two activities with a self myofacial massage using a foam roller and/or stick, and you will feel and perform much better.
A certified personal trainer can help you incorporate these tactics into your training program, for a successful and easier fitness journey.
Owner and Principal Trainer
Common Sense Fitness