What kind of stretches were you told to do before gym at school? It the rules about which stretches are good to use and when seem to change each decade and often come with a warning about what will happen if you use the wrong one at the wrong time.
But do static stretches before exercise really lead to injury? Are dynamic stretches better? If you’ve pretty much given up on including stretching as part of your workout routine, know that you aren’t alone, but also that including stretching will help prevent injuries in the future.
So, with so much conflicting information, how do you know which type of stretching is better? Let’s take a look.
What Are Static Stretches?
Static stretches are the most common types of stretches, and likely the ones you are fitting in quickly at the start or end of a workout. A static stretch is where you target a single muscle or group of muscles by holding a position (a stretch) for 20 – 60 seconds.
Static stretches and their benefits are subject to some debate, as – as you may have experienced at school and since – they have gone from something everyone should do before they exercise to something that should never be done, let alone cold, lest you tear a muscle. (A point reflected by Michael Boyle in his book New Functional Training for Sports.) [link: https://uk.humankinetics.com/products/new-functional-training-for-sports-2nd-edition?utm_source=wordpress&utm_medium=blog&utm_campaign=static_vs_dynamic]
What Are Dynamic Stretches?
Dynamic stretches are focused on functionality; they are sport-specific stretches that involve movement and aim to increase range of motion (essentially joint flexibility). These stretches involve moving multiple body parts, or the whole body, to increase flexibility without forcing a body part passed it’s natural range of motion, as is often achieved with static stretches.
Dynamic stretches are all about movement; so they are perfect for sport-specific warmups and combined with light drills to get the blood pumping. Dynamic stretches are often repeated 10-12 times.
When Should I Use Each Type of Stretch?
Static stretches, when used on cold muscles, do put you at risk of injury and studies have shown that doing so decreases muscular power. However, static stretches are incredibly effective when it comes to increasing range of flexibility and loosening up sore, tight muscles.
It’s better to warm up before a workout with five minutes’ brisk walking, jogging, or a warm-up set with no, or very little, weight. Get the blood pumping through your muscles properly before putting them under stress via sprinting or resistance (e.g. lifting heavy weight), and perform static stretches at the end of your workout when the muscles are warm.
Dynamic stretches, however, are ideal for use during warmups as they involve getting the body moving and increasing range of motion ready for the workout ahead. They have less effectiveness after a workout, but if you find static stretches too difficult, some light dynamic stretches are better than no stretching at all.