Many people begin their workouts with a few arm circles and toe touches and that’s about the extent of the stretching in their workouts. Whether you are weight training, running, or doing yoga it is important to have a stretching routine; however, for optimal performance and injury prevention you must warm up your body before performing deep stretches. When your body is cool it is difficult to get those muscles and fibers stretching. Not only may you find it harder to stretch before your workout, but you may be setting yourself up for injury and a decrease in athletic performance. Rather than begin your workout with these static (holding position) stretches, it has been shown that dynamic (moving quickly through positions) stretching pre-workout leads to a decrease in injury and an increase in overall flexibility.
As a yoga teacher, we begin our classes with dynamic stretches to warm up the body before we being the deeper stretches with longer holds. We move through sun salutations to get the heart rate up and blood flowing. Men’s Fitness magazine met with author David Behm, Ph.D., from the Memorial University of Newfoundland, to find out just how to incorporate static stretching into your regimen to get the maximum benefit. Here's what he suggested.
The warmup, deconstructed
1. Aerobic component: 5 to 10 minutes of running or cycling
2. Static and dynamic stretching: 5 minutes (minimum)
3. Dynamic activity: 5 to 15 minutes that involve movements associated with your activity
1. Aerobic component:Every athlete has his own needs, depending on their sport, so the stretches and their duration can be manipulated, but the aerobic component of the warmup is pretty universal. Behm suggests running or cycling for five minutes (up to 10 minutes) so your breathing frequency and heart rate begin to increase and you start to sweat. "The main thing is you want to get your core temperature up one to two degrees," Behm says. "Of course, no one’s going to run around with a thermometer in his or her mouth, but as long as you start to sweat a little, that’ll tell you that your temperature has gone up one degree."
2. Static and dynamic stretches:If you're a long-distance runner and endurance is the main component of your workout, you don't really need an extensive range of motion. Behm explains: "The amount of static stretching of the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves could be minimal (e.g. 2-3 stretches of 15 seconds each for each muscle group) with a greater emphasis on dynamic stretching." But for athletes who stop and go, pivot, and make abrupt, hard movements—athletes who play tennis, soccer, baseball, football, even CrossFitters) there should be a greater emphasis on static stretching, per Behm. You could do 3 stretches of 20 seconds each for the quadriceps, hamstrings, groin, abductors, calves, lower back, and shoulders, as well as dynamic stretches. [See below for specific stretch suggestions.]
"Five minutes of static stretching can decrease your incidence of injuries, but we also recommend you don’t hold a stretch for more than 60 seconds per muscle group, otherwise you may impair performance," Behm says. What you can do is break things down; perform 4 stretches of 15 seconds each, or 3 stretches of 20 seconds each. "Rather than taking a rest between stretches, just go to the next muscle," Behm advises. "It's more efficient to do the stretching like a circuit." And you can stretch for longer than five minutes so long as you keep that dynamic activity before and after. "The chances of getting performance impairments are very low when you format your warmup this way," Behm adds.
No matter what your sport, everyone needs to stretch the major muscle groups. (This is not an exhaustive list—just examples.) You could perform the following:
And if you're going to do a any exercise that involves lateral movements (like we noted above), then you'll want to add stretches for your groin and hips.
Some examples of some dynamic stretches and movements: High knees, butt kicks, walking lunges with rotations, Frankenstein walk, T-pushups, jump squats.
You can find directions for majority of these stretches here.
3. Dynamic activity:Once the static stretching is complete, you'll want to do an additional aerobic component. "The 5- to 15-minute dynamic activity should incorporate the movements involved in your activity so that the specific muscles are warmed up and the neural pathways are well established to ensure coordination," Behm says. So, if you're doing a track workout, do 5 to 10 jog to sprint accelerations; if you're weightlifting, complete some bodyweight movements that mimic what you'll complete with weights (air squats before weighted squats, for example).
It is important to stretch for optimal performance; however, save the static stretches for post-workout recovery and time to cool down which will help to slowly lower your heart rate. A cool-down routine will decrease post workout soreness.
Jeanmare and Cristy are creators and contributors of the Living Simply Nourished Blog. Grab a cup of tea (or coffee!), find a cozy spot, scroll around, read some stories, find some inspiration, and enjoy!
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