SAY IT WITH ME, "WARM UP BEFORE; STRETCH AFTER."
Why We Don't Stretch Before
On the surface, stretching seems like a great warm-up activity; a pre-game or pre-run stretch. It's what we've always done. It ’loosens’ the tissue, refreshing the water, breaks up any adhesions, and prepares the body to move quickly without injury. Doesn’t it?
No, it doesn’t – research has consistently shown no benefit in terms of muscle soreness or injury prevention, and according to the research, it may reduce strength and sport performance from 5% to 20%. How does that sound, coaches?
Many of us do something upon waking up called ‘pandiculation’ – a combination of yawning and stretching. While it feels great to have a stretch and a yawn after a period of inactivity, it's not needed. Consider this, a dog doesn't stretch before going from asleep to out the door immediately when they hear the mailman.
Stretch before you run? Do you stretch before you run for the subway? Are you going to stretch before you do Olympic lifting? The guy building the home across the street from the gym is not stretching before he shoulders a hundred pounds of shingles up a ladder. In other words, those who don’t stretch do not have disastrous movement failure.
A second argument against stretching as a form of musculoskeletal maintenance is that we do not do a lot of movement in our daily life at the end range of motion. Stretching as it is commonly practiced in many yoga classes, sports prep, and even rehab involve taking the stretch to the end-range of motion. It has simply not been shown that exploring the end-range of motion with active or passive stretches improves the quality of movements in daily life.
Finally, all the research points to training being very highly specific – when you train a motion, you train for that motion only, it does not bleed over into other motions so easily or so generally as we have supposed. If you are training yourself in a twisting stretch, you are ‘training’ for that specific stretch, and it may not translate into more or better motion in daily life.
To stay safe and get the most out of your workout you must always include a pre-workout warm-up before you begin and then finish with a cool down to get your body back into gear.
The difference between warm-ups and stretching
During a workout we can all go from zero to hero and push hard but the safe way to train is to bring the body’s temperature up slowly and loosen up the muscles before we get to do anything serious. That’s what warm-ups are designed to do.
Stretching, on the other hand, is done in order to improve overall flexibility. Once muscles have worked they are at their most compliant state and they let us stretch further than we normally would gaining more ground while we are at it.
Timing: It is recommended to start with a warmup and then finish the training session with a cool-down and some stretching (optional, according to most research).
While we grew up stretching before exercise, and many of us are stuck on that, warmups are critical to a better performance and fewer injuries but stretching is somewhat of an optional extra - we can do it, we should do it but not doing it will not cause any issues, most times. Post workout, it's advisable nonetheless.
Important difference: warm-ups should always be dynamic, always use active exercises (e.g., hops, rotations, chest expansions) to get our bodies ready. The main point is to get the blood flowing, elevating body temperature, especially during colder seasons. Our bodies benefit from stretches after we have already worked out - our muscles are more susceptible to them allowing us to stretch further and hold the stretches longer.
Follow the link to see some great warm up plans from Darebee.