Most people are familiar with stretching and acknowledge they probably don’t do enough of it. It’s like any other good habit that can be difficult to make time for. Like all other forms of fitness, stretching has greatly evolved over the last few decades. Mobility and functional fitness have become some of the most popular buzzwords in the health industry. Just five years ago, most people might not have known what a foam roller was unless they used it in therapy. These days most weekend warriors tout the benefits of mobility exercises and I have even seen professional athletes foam rolling on national television. So with all these new types of mobility and flexibility exercises where is one to begin? In this article, I will review a few types of flexibility exercises and highlight some of the benefits of mobility training.
Static vs Dynamic
Read any exercise science book and there is plenty of documentation on static stretching. Static stretching is when you hold a specific muscle group in a certain range of motion for an extended period of time. “Hold that quad stretch for at least 30 seconds and repeat twice on both sides.” I have said that line my fair share over the last 10 years in the industry.
Dynamic stretching has also become very popular and is a major component of mobility training. Dynamic and static stretching are like night and day. Static stretching is more like the low and slow of gentle yoga and dynamic stretching is what the professional athletes do on the field before the big game. The purpose of stretching is to elevate body temperature and heart rate as well as increase blood flow to working muscles. Stretching also increase the length and mobility of muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints. In essence, stretching can prepare the body for exercise.
So which type of stretching is better to get ready for a workout? Most of us might say static stretching because it was what we learned in gym class. These days, exercise science research suggest otherwise. Some research has shown that a single bout of static stretching can acutely impair muscle strength and power (1). So static stretching before a 1 rep max squat would be a BAD idea. Research also suggest performing dynamic pre-participation drills, such as dribbling drills, before actual sports play in order to avoid stretch-induced strength and power losses (1). Makes sense right, practice the sport before you play the sport. Practice the lift before you max out the lift.
When to Stretch
One if not the most common reason why people don’t stretch is because it takes extra time. I understand the importance of stretching, but even I don’t like to do it sometimes. Foam rolling and dynamic stretching is more my speed because I feel like I get more out of active stretching. I feel that everyone can fit a seven minute warm up and a seven minute cool down into their workout.
A seven minute dynamic warm-up will help you break a sweat, prep your muscles for your routine, and get those fast twitch muscles firing. Try a few rounds of walking lunges, spidermans, mountain climbers, burpees or even bear crawls. You will get so much more out of your dynamic warm-up verses a five minute walk on the treadmill.
After your workout, static stretching would be much more appropriate than before your workout. Make sure you stretch all the major muscle groups you used during your workout. Foam rolling can be your best friend when combating muscle stiffness, delayed onset sorness and keeping all your fascia happy. If you are a runner then IT band, calf, and hip flexor foam rolling will keep you healthy especially as your distance increases. Foam roll each muscle group 30 seconds per side and repeat twice. Don't have a foam roller? Click this link and consider getting this one shipped to you today, from our Amazon Affiliation.
Mchugh, M. P., and C. H. Cosgrave. "To Stretch or Not to Stretch: The Role of Stretching in Injury Prevention and Performance." Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports 20.2 (2009): 169-82. Web. 8 Dec. 2015.