In recent years, there has been much debate over the benefits of stretching before and/or after physical exertion and which type of stretching is most beneficial. Historically, stretching has been used to obtain gains in flexibility, reduce the risk of injury, enhance muscle performance and reduce soreness associated with tight muscles. While stretching is still used for all the above purposes, the type of stretching we choose to do may very well depend upon the outcome we desire to achieve.
There are two types of stretching: dynamic and static. Knowing when to use them is the key to better performance and injury prevention.
Static stretching is a sustained stretch of at least 30 seconds and is by far the best way to facilitate increased flexibility of the muscles being stretched. What is interesting and might even seem counter-intuitive is that research shows that performing static stretching prior to athletic activity may actually impair performance by potentially reducing muscle power, speed and force production. Therefore, contrary to what many of us might think, static stretching is most optimal when performed after a sport or activity.
Dynamic stretching, on the other hand, is repetitive movement of the entire upper and lower body segments through a comfortable, fluid and controlled range of motion. In contrast to static stretching, dynamic stretching involves no appreciable sustained hold at the end of the motion and is performed prior to activity or sport. Studies show that those who utilized dynamic stretching experienced improved sports specific performance dimensions such as power, peak torque production, agility, sprinting performance and vertical jump height in comparison to subjects who use static stretching or do not stretch at all prior to activity. It is not surprising then that many professional athletes now use dynamic stretching in lieu of static stretching before the big game. Just go to a Cardinals football game early, and you will see the players performing a dynamic stretching warm-up series. Dynamic stretching is not just for the pros. By modifying the intensity of the dynamic stretching, it can be performed by athletes of all ages and fitness levels.
Therefore, as a general rule of thumb for healthy individuals with good flexibility, dynamic stretching should be used prior to activity or sports while static stretching should be used afterward to achieve improved muscle length and flexibility. Of course, every general rule has an exception. If you happen to have areas of pathological muscle tightness from a previous injury or have areas of reduced flexibility, the rules change. In this instance, the best way to reduce your risk of injury is by performing a combination of dynamic stretching and static stretching for these particular muscle groups prior to engaging in your activity.
If you would like to learn more about these different types of stretches and how they can help reduce your risk for injury, give us a call and schedule an appointment, and we will tailor a program to meet your specific goals and needs.
*Source- Advance for Physical Therapy and Rehab Medicine, July 22, 2013