Boost your sport or exercise performance and reduce injury risk with these physio-approved strategic stretching tips.
When it comes to preparing for exercise, many people take a sort of common-sense, ad hoc approach. For those who have been exercising or playing a sport for years, it’s also common to keep doing the same warm-up and cool-down year after year without factoring in the latest research findings or changes to activity type. A case in point is performing static stretches before sport or exercise.
Once held as the gold standard for warming up, static stretching - which is, as the name suggests, holding a stretch in place for 25 to 40 seconds - is now thought to be less effective than dynamic stretching when preparing for exercise. Dynamic stretching that mirrors the movements in your chosen activity or sport optimally prepares muscles for dynamic activity and may also bypass a possible drawback of static stretching in the form of compromised explosive movements due to decreased strength and power. Yes, static stretching may actually undermine performance - especially in sports such as running. Eccentric power (muscle contraction during muscle lengthening) has been shown to remain reduced for up to an hour after static stretching while other compromises such as hindered coordination of explosive movements may last up to two hours after static stretching.
What’s optimal when preparing for dynamic activity? Conclusions differ, but extensive research supports the case for a warm-up consisting of submaximal intensity aerobic activity (e.g. jogging) followed by dynamic stretching. Is that to say you should ditch static stretching? No! Static stretching can be useful, especially at the end of a workout to reduce muscle soreness and return the muscle to its pre-exercise length. Static stretching is also still recommended as part of a maintenance stretching program to promote static flexibility and reduce injury risk. If you are using static stretches as part of a warm-up for dynamic activities, make sure you pair them with dynamic ones and hold static stretches for less than 45 seconds.
Why you need dynamic stretching
- Dynamic stretches are functional movements that mirror those in a chosen activity or sport. Muscles should be taken to their range limit with continuous movement. Examples may include high knee lifts, kicking heels to bottom, large side steps, step lunges, hip rolls and running backwards.
- Dynamic stretching improves dynamic flexibility, whereas static stretching solely promotes static flexibility.
- Dynamic stretching has been found to reduce injury incidence during sports.
- Dynamic stretching prepares muscles for rapid changes in muscle length by increasing core and muscle temperature, delivering oxygen and nutrients to working muscles and elongating muscles integral to a chosen sport.
If you’d like to leverage the science of stretching to boost exercise or sports performance and/or reduce injury risk, consult a physiotherapist for a list of personalised stretches tailored to your activity and fitness and for guidance in correct form.