There is much controversy in the research as to whether stretching prevents injuries. One thing is clear: Stretching helps to improve both range of motion and flexibility. Not only can these play an important role in terms of warding off injuries, but they can also help improve performance in the long run.
Having better flexibility helps increase range of motion. In turn, both help an athlete move more effectively, so he or she is less likely to get injured. Healthy body mechanics and healthy training go hand in hand. Stretching has important implications for athletes who want to prevent injuries or rehabilitate them. Keep in mind that when it comes to flexibility, you can have too much of a good thing. A small study has even found that some inflexibility in specific areas can actually be an asset for runners. Even still, every good runner will have a healthy amount of muscular pliability, so we aren’t talking about stiffness to the point of impaired movement.
The key is to know when to do which type of stretching. There are two main types of stretching: static and dynamic. Static stretching involves holding a certain posture, usually for 20–30 seconds, thereby elongating the muscles. Dynamic stretching uses active movements to help stretch and train the muscles to fire in a certain way.
Static Versus Dynamic Stretching
Static stretching has been proven to have a potentially detrimental effect on athletic performance when done prior to activity, but dynamic stretching appears to have the opposite result. The theory is that when the muscle is elongated too much during static stretches, it loses some ability to generate power during explosive movements (think: running or jumping). Dynamic stretching provides a more sport-specific warmup without overstretching muscles and reducing their elastic power.
While static stretching is still an important tool in your post-workout injury rehab and prevention plan, a dynamic routine should generally be the only type of stretching you do before training sessions. Consider integrating these dynamic movements into your pre-workout routine following a 10–15 minute easy jogging warmup. Following the workout, try the listed static stretches to help you wind down from activity and address any oncoming ailments.
Pre-Workout Dynamic Stretches
1. Walking Lunge: Do 20 meters of walking lunges.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Step your right leg forward, and, as you plant your foot, lower your body into a lunge. Your right knee should be at a 90-degree angle and aligned with your right ankle. Slowly come back to center, stand up and repeat with the left leg.
2. Leg Swings: Do 4 sets (1 set in each direction for each variation) of 15 reps of leg swings.
Start with forward leg swings by standing next to a wall for balance. While keeping both legs straight, swing your right leg in front of your body and then behind your body — this counts as one leg swing. Avoid swinging past the point of discomfort. After repeating with your left leg, switch to the sideways variety. Similar to forward leg swings, simply swing the right leg toward the left, sweeping your foot across the front of your body and then back to the right — this counts as one leg swing. Repeat with your left leg.
3. Frankenstein: Do 20 meters forward and 20 meters back.
With your feet hip-width apart, stretch your arms out in front of your body with palms facing downward. March forward, and swing your right leg up in front of your body. Be sure to maintain good posture and keep your knee straight as you create a 90-degree angle with your body. Once you plant the right leg back on the ground, swing the left leg up.
4. Arm Swings: Do 20 arm swings.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your back straight. Swing both arms forward like synchronized windmills. Complete 10 rotations, then reverse your arms and swing them backward for another 10 rotations. Be sure to engage your hips and keep your arms relaxed during this exercise.
Post-Workout Static Stretches
5. Pigeon: Do 1 minute in pigeon pose.
Start in pushup position. Bring your left leg forward, placing your bent knee and thigh in front of your torso. Your left foot should be sitting near your right hip. The right leg should remain extended behind your body, the top of which is resting on the ground. Support your body with your hands on either side and feel the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds, and switch sides.
6. Calf Stretch: Do 1 minute of calf stretches.
7. Quad Stretch: Do 1 minute of quad stretches.
8. Scissor Stretch: Do 1 minute of scissor stretches.
Standing with your feet together, step your left foot forward a couple of feet. Carefully bend forward at the hip, reaching down toward the ground and placing your hands on either side of your left foot. Hold for 30 seconds, and switch sides.
Which of these stretches have you tried? Share your thoughts in the comments below.