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It is not uncommon to see people hanging around the gym or the track stretching their hamstrings, quads, or some other muscle in an effort to get ready to lift weights or run. The old school of thought was that you had to perform these types of held stretches, or static stretches, in order to get your muscles ready for physical activity and to prevent injury. With newer research suggesting that this is not exactly the best idea if you want to maximize performance, many people are left wondering what to do instead. Although there is definitely a place for static stretching, a more dynamic approach to your warm-up is the best way to prime your body for exercise.
What are static and dynamic stretching?
The two most common types of stretching are static and dynamic. Static stretching is the kind which lengthens a muscle until tension is felt and then held for a duration of 30-60 seconds. The goal is to let the muscle relax and move into more of a stretch as able, helping to improve flexibility. Dynamic stretching moves the body through different ranges of motion, gradually increasing this motion as you warm-up. This type of stretching is not held and does not seek to isolate and improve the flexibility of one muscle group. It will typically be performed slowly at first, and then gradually you should pick up the pace.
Why is dynamic stretching beneficial? Should I never perform static stretching?
Research has indicated that static stretching before exercise can actually hinder athletic performance. Studies have shown that it can reduce power and strength in the muscle which is being stretched. It has been shown to affect things like running speed and vertical jump. Therefore, before beginning exercise, a dynamic warm up routine of at least five minutes should be performed. Incorporating dynamic stretching will help to increase blood flow to the muscles, work easily through ranges of motion to loosen up joints, and prepare the cardiovascular system for the upcoming increased demand. Following the bulk of the routine, whether it be a 3 mile run or interval training, static stretching is a great thing to be included as part of a cool down. Especially for runners, who move the through the same ranges of motion continuously, static stretching helps to maintain flexibility and decrease muscle tightness. For injury prevention and performance, a warm-up and a cool-down are essential components to any workout. So, before you take off, be sure to take a few minutes and get your body ready so you can have a great run!
Below is a picture of two different static stretches commonly used by runners. The first one is focused on the muscle on the front of the thigh, while the second one is concentrating on stretching the muscles in the back of the leg.
Below is a sample video of a simple dynamic warm-up routine which can be used before running. It is important to make your routine use the muscle groups which you will be using for your activity.
Jacqueline Burris is a Physical Therapist Assistant at Specialized Physical Therapy in beautiful Asheville, NC with over eight years of experience in Orthopedics. She has been an avid runner for over a decade and enjoys helping other runners stay healthy and injury-free.