Stretching–How Effective Is It, Really?

Admit it.  You’ve skipped the warm-up or cool-down portions of your workout before.

Maybe you were pressed for time.  I’ve been guilty of that, I hate to say.

Or maybe you never do it because it seems like a waste of time.

Traditionally, stretching has been considered as a necessary component to a warm-up routine, thought to prevent injury and improve performance.  However, there has been much discussion and controversy in recent years over the benefits of stretching before your workouts.  Many recent studies claim that stretching actually reduces strength, power and sports performance.

So which is it?

Yes, the warm-up and cooldown have specific functions to help you get the most of your workouts, and you should do them.  As a general rule, perform dynamic stretches as part of a warm-up, and static stretches for your cooldown.

A recent article by the American College of Sports Medicine examined recent studies out there regarding static stretching, and came to these conclusions:

Static stretching (holding a stretch) as part of a warm-up:

  • May be beneficial for activities requiring a large range of motion (for example, ballet).  For a regular workout, it is probably not necessary.
  • May be more beneficial for the older and less active population, where the lack of flexibility becomes a limiting factor for recreational activities and may reduce the risk of falling.
  • May reduce performance in highly active people and elite athletes.
  • Research on static stretching to reduce injury has mixed results, and additional research is needed.

But what about dynamic stretching?  Dynamic stretching (stretching while moving) increases blood flow and gets your body prepared for the workout ahead.  This type of stretching, along with some light cardio to elevate your heart rate, is a great way to warm up.

I typically don’t recommend static stretching while the muscles are “cold”–ie., before a workout–but as part of your cooldown, when your muscles are warm and pliable.  A cooldown is essential for  easing your heart rate back down, preventing the pooling of blood in the legs, and is an ideal time to work on your flexibility and range of motion.

Here’s an example of  a static stretch:

woman-stretching-her-sidesAnd here’s a dynamic stretch:

Dynamic-Stretching-e1378495898544

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