Often we are told that static stretching is the best way to warm up prior to training or exercise and a way to loosen our muscles up and prevent injury. But how much truth is there behind this practice? Recent studies have suggested that static stretching can actually have the potential to reduce performance (1) and that dynamic stretching is a much more valuable practice pre-training.
Why do we need to warm up?
Warming up- as nearly everyone knows is crucial important. It prepares you for training and reduces your risk of injury. But most important, warming up increases your body temperature and increases muscle blood flow and oxygen availability making your muscles more efficient. It also increases neuromuscular speed and sensitivity- which in turn increases your rate of muscular contraction. All important things before embarking on a tough gym session.
What is the difference between static and dynamic?
Dynamic stretching closely mimics movements made during exercise and is done in an explosive manner. Dynamic stretching actually has the potential to improve performance (1, 2) and therefore it is important that it is done before your workout. Your warm up directly impacts your ability to perform to your maximum ability. As such, dynamic stretching plays a major role in maximizing your performance levels and should be a key part of any warm up. Dynamic stretching is very effective as increasing your muscles core temperature whereas static stretching can actually lead to a drop in temperature. Static stretches are primarily used to increase flexibility. Studies have suggested that muscle strength can decrease after static stretching and that coordination of explosive movement can also decrease. Thereby static stretching before a workout can actually have a derogatory effect on performance. Static stretching makes you more limber and relaxed which will make them less powerful- not what you want when you are wanting to contract your muscles in the way of weight lifting! These studies were done with static stretches that were more than a minute long and therefore shorter static stretches may not have the same effect-however you probably won’t be getting the benefits that you get from static stretching anyway (2, 3).
So what if you want to increase flexibility?
If you want to increase flexibility then static stretching is your best bet. However this should be done post training or later in the day. If it fits with your routine to static stretch prior to your warm up, that is fine, as long as you follow it up with a dynamic warm up before you start your workout.
Foam rolling is also a great option as it can increase your range of motion but doesn’t appear to negative affect performance (4).
It is clear that dynamic stretching over powers static stretching when preparing for any type of work out. This is should became a part of your workout routine. A warm up not incorporating dynamic stretching does not fully prepare the muscles for the task ahead, and can potentially inhibit your performance. This isn’t to say that there is no place for static stretching. Static stretching is also important to increase flexibility however it should not be performed directly before training!
1. McMillian DJ, Moore JH, Hatler BS, Taylor DC. Dynamic vs. static-stretching warm up: the effect on power and agility performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2006;20(3):492-9.
2. YAMAGUCHI T, ISHII K. EFFECTS OF STATIC STRETCHING FOR 30 SECONDS AND DYNAMIC STRETCHING ON LEG EXTENSION POWER. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 2005;19(3):677-83.
3. Curry BS, Chengkalath D, Crouch GJ, Romance M, Manns PJ. Acute effects of dynamic stretching, static stretching, and light aerobic activity on muscular performance in women. J Strength Cond Res. 2009;23(6):1811-9.
4. Bushell JE, Dawson SM, Webster MM. Clinical Relevance of Foam Rolling on Hip Extension Angle in a Functional Lunge Position. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 2015;29(9):2397-403.