I’ve recently been taking a good look at stretching, specifically the benefits and when during a training session you should or shouldn’t be stretching. Some of my findings were new to me, so I thought I’d share a general overview and some of what I learned.
What is stretching?
The movement of your muscles through their complete range of motion. There are two types of stretches: Dynamic and Static. Dynamic is the continuous movement of a muscle smoothly through its complete range of motion, for example leg swings. Static stretching is placing a muscle in a stretch and holding it in that position, for example if you were to raise your leg at a height and fold your body over it, holding the stretch for a fixed amount of time.
Dynamic Stretching is great at the beginning of a session because it helps to improve metabolic activity and blood flow to the muscle. This in turn helps with the muscles range of motion and power output, as well as preventing injury.
Static Stretches initially cause muscles to contract, and are proven to decrease the power available in the muscle for a short period – not what you want before a training session requiring maximum power. However when held for around 20 seconds post-workout, static stretches are effective at helping muscles to recover and heal, gently increase your flexibility and relax your muscles.
When is it best to stretch?
Based on my research, Dynamic activation stretches are great to include in your warm up. Static stretching in a fixed position for 20 seconds are most effective after exercise, during your cool down.
For a brief dynamic warm up, check out the video below from 13’07”. This video also really makes you think about the best use of a training session, especially when as Nath discusses (11′ in) the most ‘efficient use of time for optimal training’ doesn’t include static stretching, which can be done anywhere at any time, instead of getting onto the equipment you’re there to work on. He also makes a good point when it comes to young kids and the lack of ‘fun’ in stretching as opposed to using the equipment in the gym.
I hope you found this interesting and informative. I know it’s helped to inform what stretches I use in my training and coaching sessions. I’d really appreciate your thoughts below. On a side note, I was taught a warm up is for both the body and mind, do you think shortening the warm up could pose a risk to a athlete being less mentally prepared? Comment below with your opinion, I’d love to hear it!