I can still hear the rhythmic counting, from one to 30 that resonated repeatedly from our circle at midfield. I remember the way the blades of grass tickled the backs of my knees as I reached to touch the edge of my cleats. And despite the whistles, cheers, and pre-game commotion clouding my memory, I can vividly hear my coach shouting at us to make every stretch count.
As a soccer player for most of my youth and young adulthood, I was constantly being told to stretch. And even now, as a recreational runner, I still feel like I am committing a mortal sin if I begin a workout without at least a few minutes of stretching. However, recent studies are beginning to show that my coaches and I may have been wrong all along. Static stretching, the method employed by most amateur teams and independent exercisers, may be doing your body more harm than good!
Static stretching is the traditional way of holding a stretch for 20 to 30 seconds, whereas dynamic stretching involves stretching while moving.
A study conducted at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, concluded that athletes who performed static stretches before exercise actually received less force from their leg muscles than those athletes who did not stretch at all. The New York Times reported that similar studies also found that static stretching before activity decreased a muscle’s strength up to 30 percent.
Although static stretching has not been proven to prevent injuries when done before exercise, physical activity can still be dangerous if commenced before the body is properly warmed up. They key to warming up your body involves raising your body temperature and increasing blood flow. Warm muscles and expanded blood vessels extract oxygen from blood and use stored muscle food more easily. Even more beneficial, warmed up muscles are less apt to rip when stretched. The best way to warm up your muscles is though light aerobic activity, such as jogging.
Malachy McHugh, the director of research at the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, stresses the importance of dynamic stretching to increase power, flexibility, and range of motion. Unlike static stretching, which only helps you mentally build up tolerance to the discomfort of the stretch, dynamic stretching allows your muscles to prepare for exertion, says McHugh.
Is static stretching ever beneficial? Yes, but only when done correctly! According to the Mayo Clinic, stretching after a workout increases flexibility, improves range of motion in your joints, improves circulation, and relieves stress. In addition, they recommend breathing, remaining still (never pulsating or bouncing), and pacing yourself throughout each stretch.Tweet