Pull your right leg up and back, grab it with both arms, and hold for a ten count. For many people, this is part of their pre-exercise routine. This form of stretching is called static stretching.
Static stretching requires you to hold a muscle in one position for a set amount of time while the rest of the body stays still. From the 1930’s until the late 90’s, this type of stretching was considered the key to reducing injury, increasing flexibility and improving overall performance.
While static stretching is considered one of the most popular kinds of stretching, it is not without controversy. Thanks to technology and an ever-growing understanding of the human body; a growing number of sports trainers and scientist believe that while static stretching is good, too much of it can be bad for you, especially before working out.
Imagine buying a pack of rubber bands, freezing them and then stretching them, that’s what Steve Saunders, founder of Power Train, a sports training facility that works with professional, collegiate, and everyday athletes says is the effect of static stretching prior to working out. Static stretching “pulls apart and weakens the fibers,” he says.
David Behm’s Research Findings
David Behm is a research professor at the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation at Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada. He’s spent the last 15 years focused on what happens to muscles during exercise and his theory is very similar to that of Sanders.
Behm and his team reviewed over 200 stretching studies published between 1989 and 2014. They examined both the type of stretch that was done as well as the duration of the stretch. What they found was that participants showed drops in performance due to the length of their pre-exercise static stretching routine.
The studies revealed that holding a pose for a minute or longer could lead to a five percent decrease in various measures of performance when exercise was performed immediately after the long stretches.
Something Behm also discovered was that static stretching depends on the athlete.
For an elite athlete like Usain Bolt, “static stretching right before a race would be a disaster,” says Behm. “He’s a high-performance machine—a Ferrari. He wants to be taut, tight, all suspension. He has less than 1/10 of a second to land, regroup and explode upward again.”
However, if you’re going to a yoga class, it would make sense to do a few static stretches to loosen up your muscles. So what does this mean for you? When should you perform a static stretch or should you even do them at all?
These tips will help you to optimize your stretching routines and understand the importance of time to prevent injury and increase flexibility.
Limit Your Stretching Time
Stretching before working out should not take 30 minutes, or even 15 minutes. Research shows that 5 minutes of stretching is more than enough time to help reduce injury and increase the range of motion in places such as your arms, shoulders, legs, and back.
Your Stretching Should Match Your Workout
If you are doing a chest workout or going running and want to do a pre-exercise stretch, then make sure you target the muscles you’ll be using most. You can find some great upper and lower body static stretches here.
If you don’t know what an eccentric exercise is, don’t be alarmed. You’ve most likely done one before without knowing it. Eccentric exercises are simple movements that focus on working muscles as they lengthen, rather than as they contract.
An excellent example of this type of exercise is walking down a flight of steps or running down a hill. The eccentric movement happens as your body naturally tries to slow itself down.
If you are going to do activities such as basketball, tennis, or mountain climbing, then you’ll want to extend your stretching time accordingly. Focus more intently on the muscle groups you will be using.
Combine With Dynamic Stretching
Static stretching is great, but, when combined with dynamic stretching, the results are there. You can help to warm up the body and get loose at the same time. So what is dynamic stretching?
Well, in plain terms, it’s another form of stretching that increases the blood flow throughout your body by mimicking the workout you’re about to do.
You can read more about dynamic stretching exercises here.
Your Workout and Beyond
Now that you’ve got all of this information, it’s time to go out there and put it to use. Remember, keep your pre-exercise stretch to a minimum. Focus on the muscles you’ll be using most. If you feel you need to warm up a bit more, do a few dynamic stretching exercises before your workout.
Afterward, make sure you do your post-workout stretch. This is when static stretching really comes into play. It helps to cool down your body, slow down your heart rate, decrease muscle tension and increase muscle relaxation.
If you don’t know what kind of post-exercise static stretches to do, here are a few.