Static vs. Dynamic Stretching: We’ve all been taught the importance of stretching, but are you doing the right kind before your workout?
Growing up, you probably learned that it’s important to stretch and warm up before exercise. While this is true, it’s not quite as simple as that. In fact, if the proper type of stretching and warm-up isn’t done prior to physical activity, performance and power output can decrease and the risk for injury can also significantly increase. Knowing the proper way to warm up is key to maintaining a pain and injury free body!
To begin, there are two basic types of stretching: static and dynamic. When we think of stretching we typically tend to automatically picture the static stretching type. This type of stretching involves reaching and holding a stretch with the amount of tension we can handle. Static stretching is done when the muscles are at rest and helps them try to relax and lengthen. When we static stretch our muscles, specialized tendon receptors in the muscles become less sensitive, which allows for the muscle to relax and elongate further.
The problem with this method of stretching prior to activity is that it signals the body to relax and lengthen, which is not the condition needed when exercise or physical activity is about to be done. During physical activity, muscles need a proper amount of tension as they are contracting, not relaxing. So when we begin a bout of activity by signaling our muscles to relax and lengthen (by doing static stretches), we can essentially shock our muscles, which are unprepared for the activity. We can then experience a range of problems such as sprains, tears, or muscle pulls.
Though static stretching is not a good idea before engaging in activity, it is a great method for post exercise, helping the muscle relax and lengthen after the tension and contraction that went on during the round of exercise. The bottom line is this: static stretching is important, but when we choose to stretch this way makes all the difference.
This, however, does not mean that we should just jump right into activity without any prior warm-up. Instead, we should focus on the dynamic style of stretching. Dynamic stretching is an active form of stretching that uses and actively warms up several, if not all, of the muscles and joints in the body, working them together synergistically to prepare them for the movement and contraction coming up. Dynamic stretches help take a muscle through its full range of motion; generally, the muscles and joints move in a way comparable to what they will be doing during the upcoming activity. This form of stretching is the ideal way to stretch and warm-up prior to any exercise.
Because many people are not familiar with dynamic stretches, here are a few dynamic warm-ups to get you started!