Why pre-exercise stretch routines don’t always work
Make It Count
Pre-exercise stretching has been used by coaches and athletes alike for decades with the belief that it reduces risk for injury and enhances performance. Unfortunately, we are now aware that this is false and it may in fact be detrimental. Specifically, I am talking about static stretching. This is the type of stretching where you hold a set position for time and aim to lengthen the muscle. It is rather contradictory, however, because this relaxes the muscles and reduces the ability to create tension generating force. I’m not here to tell you to stop your favorite stretching routines, rather move them to the end of your workouts or separate days.
If you are static stretching before exercise, then you are likely doing so out of habit as there is nearly no credible research to support the benefits it may have on performance or injury prevention. You are likely hindering your strength, speed and power every time you do this. Obviously, it is advisable to stop.
You are likely left wondering what you should do instead of static stretching prior to exercise. Certainly, I do not advise jumping right in to exercise with no warm up at all (although that still may be better than static stretching, but that’s debatable). What you should do is perform a dynamic warm up, and include sport or exercise specific movements. A dynamic warm up involves actively taking your muscles through a range of motion that will be used thereafter. Methods such as crawling, jump roping and body weight squats, to name a few, are all great examples of movements you can perform prior to exercise. Get creative and do some research on movements that ready your joints, muscles and tendons for exercise. For athletes, it is advisable to lightly throw a football or kick around a soccer ball before the start of a game. This will not only prepare the muscles for being used, but also help grease the groove of the movement pattern you will be performing.
Finally, I still see great value in static stretching. Without question, it is a tool that can be used to increase flexibility and reduce muscle soreness when performed correctly. However, it is advisable to perform such routines only after exercise or on separate occasions. Attend a yoga class, or adopt a routine when you have spare time. It is still a great tool. I hope you find these tips and information useful. As always, thank you for reading and have a great week.
Jimmy Pritchard has a B.S. from Colorado Mesa University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the assistant strength coach at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail. Pritchard’s passion is to help others meet, and often exceed their goals in all areas of fitness. Contact him at 970-331-3513.
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.