Your Stretching Sucks – Here’s How To Fix It
Love them or hate them, there’s no denying the benefits of a good warm-up. But while its effectiveness at improving performance is unquestionable, the process continues to be riddled with uncertainties.
- What should my warm-ups consist of?
- How long should they last?
- Can they really maximize my results?
While there are many factors involved when answering these questions, one thing is certain: we’ve all been brainwashed into doing it the wrong way. Or in other words, the seed has been sown, our mind has been set, and instead of preparing our body for success, were leading it down a path of destruction.
But before you set into panic mode, there’s one thing you must understand: not all warm-ups are created equal.
Here’s why this should matter to you:
Stretching The Truth
There are many factors that come into play when selecting what works for you. These include but not limited to: activity, age and health; it all depends on the individual. Which brings us back to the problem at hand, that is, most of us have adopted a mental image of what a perfect warm-up should look like. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look so good.
Since our early years in grade school we’ve believed that to boost performance and level up our fitness game all we have to do are a couple of behind the head arm bends, a few seconds of toe reaches, and the occasional downward dog. Or simply put, that static stretching is the be-all, end-all of pre-workout warm-ups.
Want to lift more weight? Static Stretch.
Want to burn more fat? Static Stretch.
Want to build a superhero physique, grow stronger than you ever imagined, and tackle anything that life throws your way? Well, it all begins with…that’s right, you guessed it: Static Stretching.
Now, while it may seem like static stretching has it’s place in the echelon of effective forms of warming up cold muscles, the opposIte is true. In fact, static stretching before your workout can lead to:
- Muscle loss
- Decreased power and strength
- Decline in performance
As you can see, failing to do a proper warm up can jeopardizing both your body and health.
Not cool. Not cool at all.
But yet, there’s still hope.
To Stretch Or Not To Stretch
Ok, before we continue this east coast/west coast stretching feud, I’m sure we can all acknowledge one thing: to become more efficient both inside and outside of the gym, warm-ups should be a central part of your training. In fact, it might be the most important part of your fitness regimen. Which is not an outlandish viewpoint when you consider some of the benefits:
- Delivery of blood, nutrients and oxygen to your muscles
- Improved flexibility
- Preparation of your nervous system and cardiovascular system
- Focus and clarity of mind for the workout to come
It’s clear to see why many place it on such a high pedestal. On the flip side, though, many of us are skipping our warm-ups all together. We view them as…how should I say this…boring. In fact, most individuals that step into a gym jump straight into their workouts without ever warming up. This is a sure-fire recipe for disaster as the consequences can be dangerous.
How dangerous you might ask.
Well, on a scale of 1 to 10, failing to warm up can reach Stretch Armstrong levels of dangerous. Which, I guess, falls somewhere between 11 and 15. And if you’re familiar with the oversized stretching action figure then you know what happens if you cast him away to a cold corner of your bedroom closet. Lack of activity plus exposure to frigid temperatures causes old Stretchy to grow cold. As a result, he has the potential to snap in half.
Quite frightening if you’re a five-year-old kid.
I thought we were friends.
Now, while training cold muscles won’t cause your limbs to break off (because that would suck), it can lead to harmful injuries such as torn muscle tissue, damaged muscle cells, strains and sprains. And if you lead a sedentary lifestyle, then you have even more reason to take precaution.
Fellow desk jockey’s, my eyes are on you.
On the other hand, by applying a proper warm-up you will activate unused muscles and increase the amount of blood flow. This, in turn, will increase mobility which gives way to a better range of motion and reduced risk of injury.
Stretching The Right Way
It’s now time to get dirty and settle this showdown once and for all. To begin, let’s talk about two of the most common warm-ups: static and dynamic stretching.
If you been living on this earth for more than five years, then i’ll go out on a limb to say you’re familiar with static stretching. Static stretching is the quick and easy way to loosen up tight muscles. As eluded to in the intro, the idea is to hold a stretched position for a certain amount of time. This can be anywhere from 10-20 seconds. However, recent studies conducted to show the effectiveness of stretching to prevent injury, led to the conclusion that static stretching does not reduce the risk of injury.
But, if you’ve gotten this far, then this shouldn’t be a shocker. Here’s the reason why:
When you hold a stretched position for a long period of time, you loosen up tight muscles. This in itself is not a bad thing. The problem, is when you need your muscle to contract quickly, which is the case when lifting weights. So, by loosening your muscles, they will take a longer time to completely contract. After constant repetition of you’re current exercise, this can lead to injury.
But it doesn’t end here. Static stretching not only led to muscle damage, it also caused test subjects to grow a tolerance for the pain. So, imagine hurting your body repeatedly but not realizing the damage you are causing. Sounds like a guaranteed trip to the emergency room if you ask me.
So, what you’re saying is that we’ve been lied to this whole time?
Well, not exactly. We’ve just been fooled into thinking that static stretching was the best thing since sliced bread, when, in reality, it’s been sneaking its way into our hearts under the cover of dynamic stretching.
You see, when you spend 10-15 minutes performing your pre-workout warm up, chances are that it will be a hybrid of both static and dynamic stretching. Unfortunately, this confusion led researchers to believe that static stretching was providing all the benefits mentioned before, when it was dynamic stretching doing all the work.
Quite sneaky of you Mr. Staticky Stretchy.
How To Bend and Not Break
A pre-workout warm-up should prepare your body and mind by activating the muscles used in your workout session. Dynamic stretches will do just that.
By focusing on the range of motion as opposed to the hold, you will be setting yourself up for increased strength, muscle growth and power. Studies have even shown that dynamic stretching before your workout can help you lift more weight when compared to static stretching or not stretching at all. Which translates to more time flexing in front of the mirror. Go ahead, you deserve it you sexy beast you.
A few examples of dynamic stretches include lunges, wall slides, or even push-ups. A good practice is to select movements that will mimic the range of motion of the workouts to follow. For example, a squat to overhead reach will engage your thighs, hips, glutes and shoulder muscles. So whether your workout consist of heavy squats or heavy lunges, the required muscles would already be active. Or, as an alternative or addition, you can also perform 1-3 “light” warmup sets of your main heavy lifts.
But the benefits are not just limited to the gym. Dynamic warm ups also help you improve body awareness. This will allow you to be more coordinated and balanced when performing day to day tasks such as reaching for items high up on a shelf, catching up to your bus ride home, or bending down to tie your shoes. And when it comes to determining the quality of your warm up, an elevated heart rate and light sweat are good indicators.
Ok, but does this mean I should never do static stretches?
Of course not. Static stretches not only feel great, they also help to improve flexibility. The best time to do them is at the end of your workout session and throughout your day.
So while we’re not telling you to stop doing static stretches – because that would be absurd – we are telling you that if you want to improve performance, increase power and strength, reduce the risk of injury, and save your world from an impending alien invasion, then make sure to add dynamic stretches to your next workout session. To get you started, here’s a total body warm-up that you can try before your next workout:
- Foam Rolling x 5 minutes
- Wall ankle mobilization x 10
- Lateral lunges x 8
- Bent over thoracic extension x 10
- Arm swings x 10
- Glute bridge x 8
- Scap push-up x 8
- Inchworm x 5
Now it’s your turn. Are you currently implementing dynamic warm-ups in your workout regimen? What are your favorite movements? Please share in the comments. And also, don’t forget to subscribe below for insider content the moment it’s released. Plus, we’ll also send you our Back to the Fitness series and training guide.
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