We have all grown up hearing that every exercise should be warmed up with a stretch. You stick your leg out, bend forward and hold that stretch, then move onto the other leg, then off you go for a jog! Do you know when to stretch for best results?
In recent times this theory and its appropriateness at that point in the training program has been questioned over and over again. There is no denying that stretching is important and beneficial, but when is the best time to do it?
What the Research Says about When to Stretch
More and more support is growing that static stretching pre training is counterproductive and unnecessary.
A study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in sports amalgamated all the results from 104 other studies where static stretching was used exclusively as a warm up and some of the results they found were as follows:
- Reduction in strength of stretched muscles by 5.5%, with that percentage increasing when a stretch was held for 90 seconds or greater, but decreasing slightly when a stretch was held for less than 45 seconds.
- Muscle power falls by 2% after stretching
- Explosive muscular performance falling by 2.8% - this being detrimental to any initial explosive movement, ie starting off in a sprint, lifting a heavy weight, pushing off in the initial bike.
- Strength also decreases with the research citing a decrease of 8.3% less weight could be lifted after statically stretching, with reports of also being less balanced and stable then prior to stretching
Stretching is supposed to loosen muscles and tendons, which is why it is so beneficial. However when stretching, it makes the muscles less able to then spring back into immediate action and therefore utilise energy effectively.
When is the best time to Stretch?
We always recommend for our clients to not use static stretching as part of a warm up drill.
There is a time and a place for it and that is at the end of training.
We also recommend to stretch of an evening with a dedicated period of time put aside for active recovery, where foam rolling would also be included.
The truth is however, that one should stretch, whenever it can be fit in. To stretch at all is better than nothing. The general research is quite inconclusive as to a particular time being the best to stretch. It is however in consensus that stretching is important.
What are the benefits to Stretching?
Figuring out when to stretch in your schedule, we'll leave up to you. So long as it gets done. Everyone recommends stretching & the benefits are below:
- Assists in muscular flexibility
- Increases the range of motion of your joints; both these points are important in decreasing overuse injury.
- It feels good! This is enough of a reason
- Promotes general circulation which assists in decreasing the recovery phase.
- Encourages an overall better posture. Muscles shorten over time and when this becomes a chronic condition postural changes take place that can be difficult to reverse in the future.
- It's relaxing, like all movement in the body, stretching will release endorphins which will help you relax. Gentle stretching will also assist in removing the stress of the day.
- Improves your performance. Chronic contracture of muscles actually decreases their strength. Loosening them back up again will promote the muscles ability to properly fire & contract at full strength.
What should I do as a Warm Up?
A recommended suitable alternative to a static stretch is a dynamic one. Dynamic stretches take your joints through their full range of motion as well as improve elasticity, power and increase circulation and heart rate.
Which dynamic stretches you do depends entirely on the type of exercise you are doing.
A great example for a running session would be:
- Swing one leg forward and kick back. Aim to get your straight leg as high into flexion as you can followed by a swing back (without bending forward)
- Swing your leg from side to side in front of you (from left to right) - you may need to hold onto something for support. swing both your right and left leg, one at a time.
- Do some high knee runs
- Do a drill of kick backs (feet to backside)
- If sprinting; also include arm range of motion as there are a lot of anterior shear forces going through your shoulders when running.
Overall, stretching should definitely be a part of your life. Whether you are in sport or not, the substantial benefits of stretching mean it is worth doing. Most importantly, there is absolutely no excuses as you don't need anything to stretch & you don't have to go anywhere! It's completely free & you can do it from the comfort of your own home.