This post is written by guest contributor Caitlin Reid. Find out more about her after the article!
We hear so many different tips and tricks about stretching from “Don’t stretch at all” to “stretch all the time!” There are thousands of journal articles written about stretching, but somehow every PT, yogi and instructor tells us something different. I’ve had so many patients ask me to explain the best way to stretch before activity, so here are answers to the most common questions I’ve heard:
1.) Why do we stretch before sport?
To prevent injury and prepare for the activity you’re about to do. Stretching to increase flexibility and stretch connective tissue like in Bikram yoga and yin yoga is a different style of stretching.
2.) What is static stretching?
Static stretching is when you hold a stretch position without moving for around 30 seconds eg. Reaching toward your foot for a hamstring stretch.
3.) What is dynamic stretching?
Dynamic stretches are exactly that – they’re dynamic movements that lengthen your muscles. Dynamic stretches are controlled movements, not rough and bouncy.
4.) What kind of stretches are best to do before running?
Dynamic stretching before running will help prevent injury, activate your muscles effectively, enhance your agility (dodging and jumping) and improve your jumping height.
5.) What is hold-relax stretching and is it effective before exercise?
Yes! Hold-relax stretching is a way to rapidly lengthen muscles using isometric contractions.
Try a hold-relax stretch for your quad:
If you’re doing a quad stretch, holding your foot up behind you, you would try to push your leg straight without moving it. Then you’ll relax again and pull your heel up against your butt again. You’ll find your quad will lengthen and stretch further after each isometric contraction.
6.) What’s proven to be the best way to stretch?
Dynamic and hold-relax stretching. 52% of studies show static stretching causes significant impairment in balance, agility, jumping height and running efficiency. 18% of other studies have shown static stretching does nothing for us, and only 10% showed that static stretching cause significant improvement.
This means only 10% of the evidence says static stretching actually works! And this is what most instructors tell us to do every time we start exercising. A study of male gymnasts even showed running speed was inhibited after static stretching! The jury is out: Dynamic stretching is the best way to stretch before exercise.
7.) Why does static stretching cause problems?
By elongating the muscles fibres for sustained periods, the cross links that usually overlap end up further apart. When you try to use this muscle, the maximum voluntary contraction (MVC) is less, meaning you have less power when you’re trying to workout. Not only that, but the activation of your statically stretched muscle is also delayed. This means if you try to run up a hill after static calf stretches, the calf doesn’t kick in immediately. We all know it’s pretty tricky to run uphill without powerful calf strength!
Overall, static stretching causes decreased muscle power and slower muscle activation. Definitely not what you want for your next workout.
8.) When is static stretching the right type or stretching?
- If you sustain the stretch for less than 45 seconds, and pair it with dynamic stretching. There’s some evidence has shown static stretching can help when maintained to the point of discomfort, and not for longer than about 30seconds.
- If you’re doing an activity that requires a huge degree of static flexibility, static stretching can be effective. eg. Acrobatics, bikram yoga.
9.) What is the best type of stretching for dancers?
Dancing requires a huge amount of flexibility, but it’s a dynamic type of flexibility and required dynamic stretching.
10.) What is the ultimate warm up for running?
- Minimize injury and muscle impairment by doing some submaximal intense aerobic activity (a lightjog)
- Large amplitude dynamic stretches
- Sport-specific dynamic activity eg. Knee lifts, strides (running specific)
Then off you go! Get running!
Caitlin is a Physical Therapist and Pilates consultant. She’s the founder of Aprivé Wellness; a digital wellness brand blending the worlds of augmented reality, tech and health and fitness. Follow her on social media and discover more at www.aprivewellness.com