For as long as I can remember, I have been told to stretch before exercising. However, the latest research done on pre-workout routines may suggest otherwise.
Recent articles published by ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) suggest that static stretching prior to a work out may not help to prevent unnecessary injuries and can actually decrease strength and speed by over 5%. For those of you that aren’t familiar with static stretching, that is when you stretch a muscle while the body is at rest. There are a number of stretches that can be performed and they are usually held between 30 seconds and 2 minutes.
I’d like to point out that this article is not aimed at bashing the idea of stretching before exercising. Improved flexibility and range of motion in joints is a fundamental aspect of health and fitness. But this is just a warning to all you athletes out there that static stretching before a workout can hinder performance, and possibly lead to acute muscle injuries.
So what is the correct way to warm up for exercise to prevent unnecessary injuries?
There are two key aspects to a warm up. First and foremost, the warm up should be gradual and should engage the entire body. Going for a brisk walk or doing jumping jacks are effective ways to warm the body. Second, you need to incorporate SMR (Self Myofascial Release), or foam rolling. Muscles can be full of scar tissue and knots and while stretching can increase the length of the muscle, SMR breaks down tiny muscle fibers and relaxes the muscle. The “rope” analogy is perfect for explaining this. Think of knots in a muscle as knots in a rope. If you pull on a rope with a knot in it (stretch a muscle that has not been relaxed by a foam roller), the knot tightens. This is not what you want. You must first break down the tense muscle fibers (remove the knot), in order to ensure that the muscle is ready for activity. Once the tension in the muscle is eased, we can safely and effectively begin to workout.
The benefits of SMR don’t stop there. If you think about it, owning a foam roller is kind of like having a massage therapist follow you around, only they are affordable. Foam rollers can break down muscle fibers, increase blood flow, relieve stress and even help speed up the recovery process after a tough workout. I use them before all my workouts and would encourage you to do the same. Don’t revert back to the archaic ways of static stretching because it’s in your “comfort zone”. Fitness has evolved, and for the sake of your physical well-being, it’s time you did the same.
If you’re looking for ways to increase your activity level without bulking up, stretching prior to a work out will prevent injuries and can increase strength and speed if done correctly. Check out our program for flexibility training you may find the answer there.