You know the drill with gym and studio group workouts – go through some warm-up exercises, maybe throw in some stretching, hit it hard for the length of the class, and then comes the cool-down with plenty more stretching. After a tough workout, nothing feels better than the “hurts so good” lengthening of your tired muscles, knowing that you are DONE for today. But is it correct to have your complete, full-body stretch after your workout? Or should you be spending more time doing this beforehand?
Lucky for wondering us, there are people who devote plenty of time and energy into studying this very type of thing. Throughout a multitude of findings, one thing is clear: you should NOT go into a workout with cold muscles (and by “cold” we mean ones that haven’t had a lot of movement in the last couple of hours. Think: first thing in the morning, or right after a long day at your desk.) However, you’ve got to be picky about just what kinds of stretches you do. The few toe touches and arm stretches aren’t going to cut it, and aren’t likely going to bring you great results. The term for this kind of stretching – the one most of us are familiar with – is static stretching. It’s when you hold one stretch for up to 30 seconds. Static stretching has its place, but it’s not before your workout.
Need proof? One 2013 study by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (yeah, that’s a thing) showed that soccer players who performed static stretches before a sprint performed more poorly than those who didn’t. Also, a 2012 analysis of 104 studies on static stretching published by the Scandanavian Journal of Medicine & Science showed that stretching in this way before a workout will likely lead to less power and speed during your workout.
Instead try dynamic stretching – this is the working of a muscle group that will bring a muscle into a stretch, but only because of momentum and movement. This includes movements like hip circles, arm circles, walking lunges, straight leg kicks, or a slow “walk” while you bring your knees up to your chest with each step.
One common warm up is a slow jog for 5-10 minutes. While this will get some of your muscles warmed up, it doesn’t do anything to get your body prepared for the challenging and intricate moves you’ll perform. The best kind of dynamic stretching will mimic the movements you’ll make during your workout while warming up and lightly stretching your muscles at the same time.
Post HIIT workout is a great time to go into those long static stretches. Stretching is a beneficial habit to get into because it keeps us flexible, less prone to injury, and keeps us at a healthy, fluid range of motion. Static stretching may not, however, help prevent soreness, as muscles that have been worked get tiny microtears, which stretching won’t help alleviate. However, if you’ve pulled a muscle, stretching may be just the thing.
If you have questions about stretching, just ask your trainer at FIT36. He or she can give you some useful input about what dynamic or static stretches might be right for you, and for the “dynamic” activities life throws your way.