If you've been reading about how stretching before working out is beneficial, what you're reading is correct. If you've been reading about how stretching before working out is a waste of time, what you're reading is also true. So, what's the real information? Should you spend precious time before a workout stretching your body? Or should you go straight into your activity with cold muscles?
It depends. That answer may surprise you, but it all depends on what activity you'll be performing for your workout and what kind of stretching you will do before that activity. Just like a workout isn't a one-size-fits-all activity, neither is stretching.
Muscles and Stretching
Muscles are not one large block; in fact, they are comprised of small bundles of fibers. A muscle strain can occur when small tears appear in those fibers. In theory, one would think that stretching would make those muscle fibers looser, like stretching a rubber band, thus making the muscles less likely to tear during a workout. Unfortunately, in some cases stretching as a warmup to exercise can cause injury instead. Why? Because many people include stretching as their warm-up routine. This means they begin stretching tight, cold muscles, making it more likely that they will have sore muscles or an injury.
If you’re stretching before a workout, try to understand why you’re making an effort to stretch. Is it to avoid sore muscles? Is it to increase flexibility? Or is it because everyone always told you to stretch? Understanding what you hope to achieve can help you to gauge if stretching is for your particular exercise.
Benefits of Stretching as Warm-Up
Stretching is meant to increase flexibility, which is a plus for overall good health, fitness, and agility. It loosens tension within the body and increases blood flow to the muscles. For people who want to gain flexibility, stretching is a great option.
However, for many people, stretching is used as a warm-up exercise for activities like aerobics or their usual gym workout. It sounds great in theory, but not in practice. Most people will stretch while standing in one place. This is called a "static stretch." Static stretching pulls cold muscles, tearing fibers, and then subjects those torn muscle fibers into a vigorous workout. If your goal is to avoid sore muscles, then cold static stretches may not be the way to go.
Dynamic Stretching As a Warm-Up
If the goal is to prevent muscle soreness, a better way is to perform dynamic stretches as part of a warm-up routine. This is an activity that gets a person slowly moving, like walking on a treadmill or using an elliptical, while performing a range of motions with the arms. Dynamic stretching uses major muscle groups and gradually builds up the heart rate. This allows the body to slowly work up to more strenuous exercises.
Picture a rubber band again. Rather than taking it and suddenly stretching it one way, risking it snapping apart, imagine stretching the rubber band slowly in different directions. This is how dynamic stretching works. Should you stretch before a workout? Sure. But make sure to use dynamic stretches rather than static ones. For most activities, a dynamic stretch warm-up is the way to go.
Static Stretching As a Warm-Up
There are times when static stretching before a workout is beneficial, which is why consulting with a trainer or physical therapist is essential.
Swimmers, for example, are encouraged to perform static stretches before working out in the water. The type of activity swimmers perform requires long, reaching movements that are repetitive and forceful. Static stretching prepares their bodies for the shock of sudden cold water, stretching of the muscles, and the flurry of activity.
Static stretching can help after a workout. By assisting the body to cool down and preventing muscles from tightening up, static stretches may work better post-workout than as a warm-up.
Benefits of Stretching in General
Stretching on the whole, whether static or dynamic, provides the body with numerous health benefits. Stretching can even be done throughout the day in small increments, separately from a workout routine throughout the day.
Stretching loosens muscle fibers and gets the blood flowing to the muscles and joints. This allows your body to deliver oxygen, energy, and nutrients to these areas more efficiently. This also allows the removal of waste byproducts, ensuring a less toxic environment within the body.
Enhances Flexibility and Range of Motion
Without realizing it, excess energy when the body isn't flexible, causing fatigue. Bending down to tie shoelaces or reaching for a book can cause strain and tire the body. By increasing flexibility, simple tasks become more manageable. Stretching also improves athletic ability, allowing the body to become more responsive and agile.
Relaxation and Stress Relief
Believe it or not, muscles store the stress that is felt throughout the day. Stretching releases this stress and helps the body and mind to relax!
So, What’s the Verdict?
Should you stretch before working out? Yes. Although what kind of stretching (static vs. dynamic) depends on the type of workout you will be doing. For the most part, dynamic stretching used as part of a warm-up is the most beneficial. If you’re facing any sports injuries, then the team at Southwest Chiropractic can help. Give us a call today to learn more about what we can do for you!
We are a family practice and have been in business for over 19 years. We specialize in the treatment and management of work-related injuries and auto injuries; offering you the latest in quality therapy and care.