Static Stretching—Best for After Workout Relaxation
Anyone who took a gym class in the 70’s, 80’s or 90’s probably remembers the coach telling you not to “bounce” during stretching. Their rational was passed on from their coach, and their coach’s coach. The belief was that you could injure muscle and joints with movement during stretching. So, you were instructed to hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds. This is called static stretching. While static stretching has its merits, it isn’t exactly the best for preparing you to participate in a sport, exercise class or other activity requiring strength and power development. This type of stretching is good for elongating shortened muscle by utilizing components of the nervous system that actually relax or decrease muscle activity. Again, this is really great when improving range of motion is the only goal. It’s not great when you have to go grab a rebound off the glass, swing a kettlebell or do a back squat. Confusing? Let’s break it down a little more: Earlier, we discussed how holding a stretch RELAXES the muscle, completely killing your ability to generate even decent amounts of power or speed. Basically, static stretching is a performance killer. A recent article in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research pointed out that pre-activity static stretching can make you feel weaker and unstable. Another article in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports demonstrated losses in strength and power with static stretching before activity.
Does this mean you shouldn’t stretch? NO! Static stretching is for regaining lost range of motion through relaxation mechanisms. A great time to implement this is AFTER a workout, when muscles are tired and warm, but also when there is no need for speed or power. Stretch to your heart’s content after a workout.
Dynamic Stretching—Best for Pre-Workout Warm-Ups
Before your workout, you should be utilizing a dynamic-style warm-up. Just as the name implies, dynamic warm-ups are exercises that allow the person to “warm-up” with movement-based activities. The idea is to use movements that are whole body and closely replicate skills that will be performed during the activity itself. Examples would be “high knee” and “butt kick” jogs, high kicks while walking, jumping jacks, carioca shuffle and bounding. (There are great video resources on YouTube if you need visuals for dynamic warm-ups.) Dynamic warm-ups raise body temperature, raise muscle temperature, increase blood flow, activate the nervous system, and lubricate joints. Combined together, all of these components dramatically improve your ability to perform. Will your friends look at you funny while you do them? Probably. Will they want you to show them how to do the warm-ups after you issue a solid, sports beat down? Definitely.
Recap: Dynamic warm-ups before activity, static stretching within minutes after activity.