Most of us have been taught from a young age that stretching before and after exercising is important. But is that completely accurate? Sort of. We first need to talk about 2 types of stretching (there are others but we will focus on just 2 today). Static stretching involves remaining in one position while stretching a single muscle at the end range. Dynamic stretching is a stretch performed while moving.
Static stretching following exercise has been shown to have some benefits. Before the exercise, however, is where more recent research has been shedding light on the benefits of dynamic stretching. So let’s take a look at what dynamic stretching following a sufficient warm-up is and why there is benefit from performing these before exercising or competing.
Dynamic stretching is performed by putting your body through ranges of motion and using momentum to stretch muscles. In short, dynamic stretching is using certain movements to activate muscles and sending a signal to the brain to stimulate those muscles. This will not only increase blood flow to the area, but also prepare the body for using those muscles by enhancing flexibility and strength, thus preventing injuries and increasing performance. The type of dynamic stretches that should be done depend on the workout that you are going to do. Dynamic stretches performed should be motions similar to those which will be used in exercising or competing.
Some examples of dynamic stretches include high knees, butt kicks, air squats, arm circles, lunges, and leg swings to name a few. There are numerous references out there for types of dynamic stretches such as http://www.brianmac.co.uk/dynamic.htm.
Does this mean that static stretching is bad? Possibly. When you are about to perform a strenuous work out or compete in a sport, static stretching can actually inhibit the muscles, decrease performance, and make the muscles more susceptible to injury. Static stretching is great for overall flexibility, but if when stretching before performing, consider substituting dynamic stretching to improve strength.