Why You Should Avoid (Static) Stretches Before a Workout
All of us has probably heard at one point in our lives, most likely from our parents, athletic coaches or personal trainer to make sure to STRETCH before any physical activity. The traditional reasoning typically states that holding static stretches helps loosen muscles before exercising, prevents injuries and even increases overall performance. However, the latest evidence in sports performance research points quite to the contrary.
Here is the research.
A group of moderately trained men age 18-24 years were asked to perform a 1-rep max squat after undergoing different warm-up sessions. One warm-up regimen (group 1) included dynamic leg extensions, leg curls and light squats. The other regimen (group 2) included all of the above-mentioned while adding static stretches to the mix. Then they compared the two groups.
Group 2, the static stretch group, ended up performing their squats with a 8.36% DECREASE in strength and a 22.6% DECREASE in stability when compared to group 1. Holding stretches before exercising decreased the amount of force and efficiency of muscles at performing a certain activity!
What happens at the muscle fiber and muscle spindle is this. Muscles possess what is called resting tone. It is what allows them to develop force to perform a specific movement. As Todd Collura, a muscle expert from South Florida puts it, resting tone to a muscle is like the "snapiness" of a rubber band. When stretched beyond its normal limits, the rubber band loses its original "snap". It then stands to reason that holding static stretches before performing an explosive activity, often times required in most physical activity, will decrease the efficiency of muscles during athletic performance. It therefore prevents maximal benefits of a workout from being achieved.
Then, if we can't stretch, what is instead recommended?
First, perform a lighter version of the activity you are about to perform. It will elevate your heart rate, perfusing more blood to the muscles. Jogging, high-knee walks, jumping jacks and the likes are excellent and apply to a wide-range of sports. If you would like to be more sport-specific, please remember: start lightly.
Following this, dynamic stretches are acceptable (!). They are essentially a faster-paced version of the stretches you do already. Instead of being held for let's say 15 seconds, you hold them for 2-3 seconds for 10-15 repetitions, making sure to come back to the starting position each time. They keep your muscles ready and still contribute to increase the range of motion of your joints to meet the upcoming demands.
Finally, save the static stretches for AFTER the workout is completed. They are still great at cooling your muscles down and preventing lactic acid accumulation. This contributes to decrease soreness and recuperation time so you can come back in even greater shape for your next session.