Over the years there have been just as many theories and pieces of advice for the competitive and recreational athlete around pre-exercise stretching as there have been pieces of exercise equipment guaranteed to make you fit. For the longest time, the general consensus was to stretch muscles (and their associated ligaments and tendons) when they are ‘cold’ – meaning prior to starting an activity. The duration of this static stretch has varied over the years to the point of holding these awfully boring and sometimes painful positions for up to 30 seconds. No wonder so many people hate to stretch!
Thankfully, the research literature has come a long way! Stretching is no longer just about that 30-second hold of the quads, followed by the hams, and then the calves before heading out for a run. The right kind of stretch at the right time can actually improve strength, power, endurance speed and agility.
Pre-exercise static (‘cold’) stretching DOES NOT help prevent injury, DOES NOT increase strength, DOES NOT increase speed, DOES NOT increase muscle growth, DOES NOT reduce soreness, DOES NOT accelerate recovery.
Ugh!! Then why bother?
If the activity or sport that you’re engaging in requires a high amount of flexibility (e.g., gymnastics, diving) then static stretching can be beneficial.
The best time to do static stretching is when your body is warm. In other words, after your activity or sport and especially if you’re working on improving your flexibility.
Dynamic or active stretching has been shown to improve strength, power, muscular endurance, speed, and agility. Unlike static stretching that involves holding a position for a long period of time, active stretching involves repeated movements that put muscles through the expected ranges of motion for the activity or sport that is going to be performed. It increases blood flow to the muscles making them more supple and raises body temperature.
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