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Stretching: A Vexing Issue

Part 2:  What’s the Best Form of Stretching:  Static or Dynamic?

Example of dynamic stretching

Example of static stretching

Unlike man, all stretches are not created equal.  Not equal because stretches stretch different muscle groups (the lunge stretch stretches the hip flexors; the squat stretch stretches the quadriceps) and some stretches are more effective in stretching out one muscle group than another that stretches the same muscle group (in my opinion, stretching the inner thigh muscles are best done sitting down, not standing up).

But there’s another reason why stretches aren’t created equal, and the answer goes back to terms you probably first heard in your junior high science class.

If you remember your junior high science class, then you probably recall the terms “dynamic” and “static,” and their referring to energy.  For instance, when energy is static, it’s motionless, or potential; when energy is dynamic, it’s moving, or kinetic.

The same definitions apply to stretching.  When most of us think of stretching, we think of the static kind – the kind where you sit on the floor or stand and hold something to stretch those quadriceps, hamstrings and calf muscles.  Traditionally, these exercises have been done before hitting the pavement for a run, or pounding the pedals for a ride. 

But based on my own experience and my own independent research, static stretching is best left for AFTER exercise, not before.  Why?  Because it can actually diminish performance.  In fact, in no less than eight studies I found – published in such well-respected journals as Sports Medicine, the Journal of Sports Sciences, and Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport – each of them showed how static stretching ailed athletic performance, decreasing muscle strength by 10 percent, reducing force production in the Achilles tendon (i.e. the space between the heel and the base of the calf muscle) by eight percent, and reducing one’s vertical leaping ability, respectively.

And these numbers might be TOO generous.  In other analyses, muscle strength was reduced by as much as 30 percent!

The best kind of stretching to do prior to rigorous exercise is dynamic stretching.  When you stop and think about it, it makes sense.  Static stretching is stretching muscles groups while at rest and remaining at rest throughout; dynamic stretching stretches muscles and moves them at the same time.  And that’s really the point to stretching before exercise:  to increase range of motion and improve performance before “heading into battle.” 

My favorite kind of dynamic stretch is called the straight-leg march.  This is where you lift your leg straight out in front of you while trying to touch that foot with your opposite hand.  You then repeat with the opposite leg and opposite hand, “marching” as you go.  You shouldn’t force the stretch, though; that’s known as ballistic stretching.  Just gently reach out in front of you and slowly (but forcefully) march six to 10 steps, raising and reaching just enough so you can feel the stretch.

There are lots of other forms of dynamic stretches, some of which can be found here.  Try them out and see if you feel or notice any difference in your athletic endeavors.

Note:  This should not suggest that there’s no place for static stretching.  As I said, static stretching is best left for post-workout.  The muscles tend to tense up after a 30 to 40 minute run or bike ride, and there’s no better way to relax them than with some static stretches; they increase flexibility and are a great, relaxing way to cool down.

Sources:
EliteSoccerConditioning.com
The New York Times

Related Posts

  1. Stretching: A Vexing Issue?
  2. Fat: A Brown and White Issue: Efficiency of Calorie Burning Depends on It’s Color
  


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