Over the last couple of decades, static stretching has gotten a pretty bad rap. Once considered an essential part of any exercise or sports warm-up, static stretching has now been kicked to the curb and removed from the picture almost entirely -- but why?
In this post, we’ll cover everything you need to know about static stretching and why it’s best to avoid it pre-workout.
But First, Let’s Talk A Little About Joint Mobility
When you consider the importance of stretching, you first need to understand a little bit about joint mobility and its all-important role in preventing injury.
The mobility of a joint determines the maximum range of motion your joint can move without injury. Generally speaking, increasing your joint mobility allows your body to achieve favorable biomechanics much more easily during movement. And better biomechanics ultimately allows you to load your muscles in a way that maximizes their ability to both produce and absorb forces.
You see, injury occurs when ill-equipped tissues -- like bones and ligaments -- are exposed to forces that are too high for them to handle. These delicate tissues get exposed to such forces when your muscle is either not positioned favorably via the joint, not strong enough to handle the outside force, or a combo of both.
Increasing your overall joint mobility will allow your body to achieve much better positions from a biomechanics standpoint -- however, you must also be strong in those positions to really help limit your chance of injury!
Okay -- What Exactly Is Static Stretching?
Static stretching is simply the process of pulling your body into a certain position and holding that position for a period of time -- usually 30 to 60 seconds. Think of when you grab your ankle and bend it back toward your butt to stretch your hip and quad. This is a static stretch!
You’ll feel “looser” after a static stretch, but the short-term effects fade pretty quickly. The increased range of motion of the stretched joint has been shown to last around three to fifteen minutes post-stretch. Repeated sessions of static stretching over longer time ranges (like weeks and/or months) usually produce better results. Think about if you start going to a yoga or pilates class a few times a week. After a month or two, your body is much better at achieving certain positions than it was when you first started.
So, in a nutshell, static stretching helps increase the range of motion in your joint. Remember, a better range of motion means a better chance of loading your muscles more favorably during high force activities such as training or competition. But without strengthening that improved range of motion, better positions alone won't be enough to reduce your chance of injury.
Today, many coaches include static stretches during warm-ups to prepare the athlete’s body for training with the hope that this type of stretch will reduce the risk of injury. However, recent research suggests static stretching during the warm-up will not accomplish that goal.
What Is The Goal Of Warming Up?
When you increase blood flow to your working muscles before exercise, they are better able to perform. You see, more blood flow means an increased delivery of oxygen, nutrients, and other essentials to your working muscles when they’ll need them the most.
Think of it like this; as your muscles receive more blood flow, they start to “wake up” a little bit. The more prepared or alert your muscles are prior to performance, the better their ability to produce high forces -- quickly -- like when you’re sprinting down a field or snatching a new PR.
The more prepared or alert your muscles are, the better their ability will be to also absorb high forces. This is really important when considering reducing your risk of injury. Keep in mind that you want your muscles (not your bones and ligaments) to absorb outside forces, as your muscles are much more equipped to handle them.
Since the whole goal of warming up is to increase blood flow, is static stretching the best way to go about it?
Research tells us no.
Why Warming Up And Static Stretching Don’t Mix
When you do a static stretch, the opposing muscles of a joint are under high muscular tension, which constrict the capillaries of the muscle. When capillaries are constricted, blood flow naturally decreases. Lack of blood flow to the working muscles means less prepared or alert muscles for performance -- that’s directly counterintuitive to the goal of your warm-up!
As mentioned a little earlier, static stretching will definitely help you to increase your joint mobility. But again, this is only long-lasting when the static stretches are performed consistently over a significant period of time (like weeks). And even then, the improved positions that you'll gain from static stretching are only truly favorable when those positioned are also strengthened.
Before your workout, performing static stretching will only help with joint mobility in the short term. Short-term joint improvements are not enough to reduce your risk for injury, and decreasing blood flow to your muscles (which is what ultimately happens with static stretching) may very well increase your risk for injury.
Bottom Line: Static stretching reduces blood flow to the working muscles, which could increase your chance of injury.
What Is Dynamic Stretching?
In a dynamic stretch, you move your joint through a much larger range of motion via movement rather than a static hold. Think about performing a Split Squat -- a few sets of four to six reps per leg allows your hip and quad to achieve a similar range of motion as a static stretch, but with the added benefit of increased blood flow.
This increase in blood flow results in more prepared tendons, ligaments, and muscles, which means your muscles will be better able to both produce and absorb force during your workout.
A Final Word
So, now that we know that static stretching is not an ideal pre-workout, what’s one of the best ways to incorporate dynamic stretching into your workout routine?
Before you get started on your workout with our GEAR1 complete workout system.
GEAR 1 is an incredible resistance training system that comes with app integration to track your workouts, essentially providing you with your very own personal trainer right from your phone. It also allows you to get in a full body workout wherever you are—even if you have limited space—because you don’t need any extra equipment. If you really wanted to take your stretches to the next level, you could also incorporate the GEAR1 system to get in some deeper stretches and more challenging poses. It truly can do it all.
Whether you’re looking to improve mobility in your shoulders, strengthen your legs, or build core strength, HYGEAR can get you there.