Activation vs Stretching – Are you doing it all wrong?
We are all guilty of it….the typical “1, 2, 3…10 and switch” stretching routine before a workout. When this has been the norm since toddler soccer, why would you know any different? I remember in high school track we though we were creative when we spelled out our school name thinking that was a decent length in time to stretch every muscle in the body before hitting the track for a high impact workout. Our cool downs then consisted of two laps around the track to loosen up, grab a bag of ice for our hot spots and head home. Have you ever stopped to wonder, how beneficial is your stretching routine?
We typically stretch before an activity to warm–up our muscles to improve flexibility and prevent injury, but recent studies have shown this may be doing more harm than good. A study conducted by Thacker SB, Gilchrist J, Stroup DF, Kimsey CD., Jr. on ‘The impact of stretching on sports injury risk: a systematic review of the literature’ found that static stretching before an activity can temporarily compromise a muscle’s ability to produce force which then affects the performance and muscle strengthening benefits of the exercise. Let’s take a deeper look into this. Static stretching is believed to effectively increase our Range of Motion (ROM), which is sufficient for increasing flexibility. What this does is elongate the muscles to get them ready for exercise. As I just mentioned, static stretching is believed to increase our ROM, but most studies have shown that the increase we see in ROM from static stretching is actually our increase in stretch tolerance. Are you ready for the bad news?...static stretching as a part of a warm-up immediately prior to exercise has been shown to drastically decrease muscle strength and performance, mostly linked with running, jumping, lifting and other high intensity training. The specific cause for this is still unknown, but is has been suggested that neural factors and mechanical factors come into play.
What does this all mean? Do I get to skip my stretching routine and go straight into my workout? Of course not. Instead of Stretching before a workout, let’s move towards Activation before a workout. So, what is activation? Activation means we are activating the muscles to warm them up; another term for this is Dynamic Stretching. Dynamic stretching is using movement to stretch and warm up certain muscles or muscle groups. Dynamic stretches are meant to get the body moving. It uses movements like squats, lunges, jogging, biking, different types of rotations… and transforming them into stretches. You can gear the dynamic stretches to mimic the workout you will be going into. One of the biggest benefits of dynamic stretching is that it warms the muscles up to their working temperature while stretching them which improves their function as opposed to static stretching only lengthening your muscles. Dynamic stretching not only warms your muscles up to prepare them for high intensity training sessions but has also been shown to improve mobility and increase performance.
The good news is you don’t have to put your static stretches to rest. Static stretching after a workout does not decrease strength but can increase the benefits of your workout. Studies have shown that static stretching after a workout can increase strength, balance and mobility. Make sure to do this as a cool-down while your muscles are still warm and elastic.
Here are a few dynamic stretches to try before your next workout:
- Side Shuffle. This stretch can help protect against groin and outer hip injuries.
- Carioca. This stretch helps improve flexibility in the leg muscles.
- Backpedal Jog. This stretch warms up the hip flexors and abs.
- Walking Knee to Chest. This stretch targets major muscles from the shoulders to the thighs.
- Lunge Walk with Twist. This is a great way to stretch your upper body.
- Straight Leg Kick. This stretch warms up hamstrings and hip flexors.
- Heel-to-Rear Jog. A great stretch for the quads.
- Power Skip Plus Reach. An ideal whole body stretch.
Make sure to check out this video for a breakdown of the dynamic stretches: https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/stretching-vd.htmlhttps://kidshealth.org/en/teens/stretching-vd.html