Look around at any park, fitness center or jogging track and you will find someone bouncing up and down and stretching. While that person might think that stretching in such a ballistic manner is beneficial before a grueling workout; recent research however, suggests just the opposite! In fact, according to the American Council on Exercise, “Research exists to suggest that stretching prior to an athletic activity may decrease power output resulting in diminished physical performance.”
Furthermore, “some group fitness instructors incorporate stretching at the end of the warm-up period of an exercise class. However, this practice can be somewhat counterproductive since stretching during the conclusion of the warm-up will cause a drop in the participants' heart rates prior to the start of the training segment of the class. Consequently, the most appropriate time to stretch tends to be at the end of a group exercise class. Stretching at the end of class (as part of the cool-down segment) is recommended because it is safer and more effective to stretch muscles that are properly warmed and, therefore, more pliable. Also, it will help to further facilitate post-workout recovery.”
In order to prevent injury, it is important to note that muscles must be warmed up first prior to any stretching movement. Avoid stretching muscles before an activity when they are cold and not properly warmed up. To prepare for a run, don’t start out stretching first before the run; instead walk for about five to ten minutes to adequately warm up, thus reducing the chance of injury. Then, stretch if you feel the need to; however, do know that even though it might not increase your performance, it might improve flexibility. Alternatively, perform stretching at the end of your workout when the muscles are properly warmed up to reduce tension.
Stretch only after an adequate warm up of five to ten minutes. Never stretch cold muscles as this can increase the chance of injury. Perform static stretching by holding each stretch for at least ten seconds till the point of mild tension. Never bounce while holding a stretch or perform ballistic stretching. Don’t push too far and remember to breathe during the stretch. After the initial stretch of ten seconds, relax the muscle and repeat again for a total of two to three times for each muscle group.
Remember that stretching before an activity might be counterproductive; however, when performed after an activity (when muscles are warmed up) it might improve range of motion and flexibility and simply just feel good!