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Could Stretching Be A Waste of Time?

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You take preworkout supps and creatine to boost your workout performance, so why don’t you follow a smarter warm-up? Yes it can make a huge difference!

By Guillermo Escalante, MBA, ATC, CSCS

Ten minutes of low intensity cardio. Static stretching to the muscles you’re about to work. One or two warm-sets before your work sets. If you were doing this 20 years ago, you were cutting edge. However, if you’re still doing this today, consider yourself outdated. The field of exercise science has advanced exponentially over the last few decades. Unless you’re staying current with the science behind exercise, chances are your training methods are well out of date. 

The warm-up is one of many components of training that’s evolved over the years as scientists have investigated numerous warm-up protocols to find the most effective means to help reduce the risk of injuries and improve your performance. The warm-up wave has taken the sports arena by storm as of the last decade. Flash back to the 1990s and sports teams were still performing traditional warm-ups of slow aerobics followed by a slew of long, static stretches to all of the major muscle groups. Fast forward 10 years and teams started shifting their warm-up protocols to incorporate more dynamic movements to mimic the demands of the sport. 

While professional teams with highly knowledgeable trainers have taken advantage of the advances suggested by exercise science, your average lifter has been just a bit slower to adapt. Go to most gyms during peak hours and you’ll note that a majority of weightlifters are still doing the same old static stretches prior to engaging in their heavy lifting. Unfortunately, they’re missing out on some important scientific findings about static stretching. Not just wasting their precious time, some of these activities are actually counterproductive and can reduce your athletic performance (see “The Truth About Static Stretching”). The sparsity of benefits attributed to static stretching (the kind where you stretch a muscle and hold it for 20–30 seconds) has been documented in leading exercise science journals. 

Although it might be tempting to throw out static stretching altogether, don’t do that just yet. For one, the studies performed on static stretching were evaluated for its effectiveness immediately before an intense exercise session and not performed as a regular routine away from the intense exercise environment. One particular researcher warned that the effects of a bout of stretching before exercise may be opposite from the effects of stretching done as a regular routine away from the intense exercise. This suggests that static stretching may have a time and place, but immediately before intense exercise is certainly not it. 

A newer approach to the warm-up is called a dynamic warm-up. A dynamic warm-up entails controlled leg, arm and spine movements that take you slowly toward the limits of your range of motion and gradually increase in speed as the warm-up progresses. Furthermore, the dynamic warm-up incorporates movements that mimic sport-specific movements. Unfortunately, dynamic warm-ups are often confused with ballistic stretching; however, ballistic stretching involves moving bodyparts forcefully beyond their range of motion in quick/jerky movements. 

According to a recent study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine [4], dynamic warm-ups have demonstrated that the increases in body temperature from the constant motion of the body “result in decreased stiffness of the muscles and joints, improved transmission rate of nerve impulses, changes in the force velocity relationship, and increased glycogenolysis, glycolysis and high-energy phosphate degradation.” Collectively, these physiological mechanisms prepare the body for improved performance as compared to static stretching. (See “Dynamic Warm-Up for Leg Workouts” and “Dynamic Warm-Up for Upper-Body Workouts.”) If you follow this kind of preworkout protocol, you’ll better gear your body up for that intense session with the weights and you’ll still do it under the 10-minute mark. 

* Guillermo Escalante, MBA, ATC, CSCS is the 2005 NPC Orange County Middleweight Champion and co-owner of SportsPros Personal Training/Physical Therapy Center (www.4sportspros.com) in Claremont, CA.

The Truth About Static Stretching 


What They Used To Think

What They Recently Found

Reduces injuries Studies have indicated that static stretching has no apparent effect on risk of injury [1]
Prevents delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) Studies have indicated that static-stretching had no effect on post-exercise muscle soreness. [2]
Improves strength Strength may be reduced for up to an hour after a bout of static stretching. [3]

Dynamic Warm-Up For Leg Workouts

Jump rope superset with plank

Jump rope for 40 seconds and plank for 20 seconds. This will help to increase heart rate, overall body temperature and activate the core. Repeat two times without rest between sets. 

Moving rotational forward lunge 

Do a bodyweight forward lunge with your arms out in front of you. As you descend, rotate your torso and turn your arms out to the side (the same side that you step with). This will serve as a dynamic stretch to the hips flexors, hamstrings, glutes and spine. Repeat 20 times per leg. 

Moving side lunge  

With your arms outstretched in front of you parallel to the floor, lunge sideways with one leg while actively stretching the opposite groin. Repeat 10 times per side. 

Straight-legged march 

March forward keeping your legs straight while reaching toward your foot with your outstretched hand from the opposite side to dynamically stretch your hamstrings. Repeat 10 times per side.  

Reverse wall squat 

Stand with your feet facing a wall (less than 4 inches away from the wall) and squat down while keeping your chest tall, reaching back with the hips and your feet flat on the floor. Do 15 repetitions. This will help to improve ankle, knee, hip and back mobility. 

Kettlebell swings 

Grab a moderate weight kettlebell and hold it between your legs with your feet wider than shoulder width. Squat down to a quarter squat and explosively reverse the motion by extending the knees and hips while simultaneously swinging the kettlebell forward by flexing your outstretched arms in front of you. Repeat 20 times.

Dynamic Warm-Up for Upper-Body Workouts

Jump rope superset with scapular push-up 

Jump rope for 40 seconds and plank. Collapse your shoulder blades together and then reverse the motion to pull them apart; repeat 20 repetitions. This will help to increase heart rate, overall body temperature, activate the core and engage the scapular stabilizers of the shoulder. Repeat two times without rest between sets. 

Dumbbell V-scaption 

Stand erect holding 5–10-pound dumbbells with your thumbs facing up and your extended arms in front of your outer thighs. Lift your arms up and out to shoulder level while keeping your elbows locked (making a “V”). Repeat 20 times. This engages the rotator cuff. 

Push-up to row

Grab 10–20-pound dumbbells and place them on the floor. Get into a push-up position with your hands on the dumbbells and perform a push-up. When you reach the top of the push-up, pause and row with one hand and then the other hand. Repeat 10 times. 

Pull-up to plyo push-up 

Perform five full range of motion pull-ups followed by five clap push-ups. This engages the same muscles as the push-up rows but in a more explosive fashion.



References: 

1) Pope, R.P., R.D. Herbert, J.D. Kirwan, and B.J. Graham (2000). A randomized trial of preexercise stretching for prevention of lower-limb injury. Med Sci. Sports Exerc. 32: 271–277 

2) Herbert, R.D., and M. Gabriel (2002). Effects of stretching before and after exercising on muscle soreness and risk of injury: a systematic review. Br. Med J. 325: 468–470. 

3) Fowles, J.R., D.G. Sale, and J.D. MacDougall (2000). Reduced strength after passive stretch of the human plantar flexors. J. Appl. Physiol. 89: 1179–1188. 

4) Bishop, D. Warm up II: Performance changes following active warm-up and how to structure the warm-up. Sports Med. 33: 483–498. 2003.

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