Stretching both before and after exercise has long been used as a way to prepare muscles for activity and develop flexibility in muscles. Stretching both improves performance and prevents injury. In recent years, dynamic and resisted stretches have become popular because of their added benefits to the muscle. Whether the stretch is static, dynamic or resisted, flexibility is only developed through consistent stretching.
When to Stretch
Muscles respond best to stretching when they are already warm. Stretching cold muscles can actually cause muscle strains, pulls and tears. Because of this, stretching before a workout, especially static stretching, occurs less frequently. Before stretching of any kind, do something to elevate your heart rate. Always break a sweat either before or during your stretching before a workout. After workouts, you can include your static stretching because the muscles are warm. This is the best time to increase flexibility in the muscles.
For many years, static stretching was the only type of stretching practiced. Static stretching is any type of stretching movement in which the position is held for several seconds without movement. Static stretches have been developed for every muscle in the body. If your goal is to lose weight, static stretching will not get you any closer to your goal. While it certainly can improve flexibility when done after a workout, static stretching by definition involves no movement, which means there is no significant burning of calories. Static stretching does have a place in your workout, if performed after your workout, with each position held for 20 seconds or longer.
Dynamic stretching is the ultimate flexibility routine for athletes. If your goal is to lose weight and improve flexibility, this is the best way to do it. Dynamic stretching is performing stretching exercises while moving. Instead of bending and reaching for your toes to stretch the hamstrings, dynamic stretching consists of kicking your foot up in front of you as high as possible. Because you are moving while you are stretching, the muscles are warmed up and stretched simultaneously. Dynamic stretching does not improve your flexibility as much as static stretching, but is more efficient at preparing you for physical activity. Dynamic stretching should occur before your workout only.
Using a partner to stretch you can be beneficial because your partner can position your limbs to stretch more efficiently than you can. Another benefit is the opportunity for you to push against the partner's resistance to stimulate the muscle after the stretch. This technique makes the stretch more effective because the muscle is expanding and contracting in succession. In a typical hamstring stretch, you are lying on your back with one leg up and the other flat on the ground. Your partner is on one knee, pinning your leg to the ground by placing his foot over it with his ankle, with one hand on the heel of your stretching leg, and another hand on the front of your knee to keep your leg straight. Your partner pushes your leg toward your head, and when the stretch becomes uncomfortable, you tell him to stop. After holding the stretch for approximately 15 seconds, you push against your partner as he slowly resists, allowing your hamstring muscle to contract. Complete three reps of this on each leg before switching places. This type of stretch can be performed before and after your workout.
- Essentials of Strength and Conditioning; National Strength and Conditioning Association; 2008
- Dynamic Stretching: The Revolutionary New Warm-up Method to Improve Power, Performance and Range of Motion; Mark Kovacs; 2009