Stretching- Warm up and Cool Down!

Do you warm up before your workout? Do you warm up before playing a sport? Are you stretching? What kind of stretches? Do you cool down? What do you do in a cool down?

I often have this conversation with my patients. And most often the answer is, “Yes, I stretch before I walk” or “I do the same stretches before and after a walk/ bike ride/ (fill in any other sport/activity).” Which brings on the educator side of Physical Therapist in me. I don’t think any PT will pass on an opportunity to educate about movement/injury prevention/body mechanics- be it to their patients, friends or family. Fellow PTs, tell me I am not the only one!

Let’s talk about Stretching. Ofcourse, you are at Stretch Cafe, right?

Static Stretch– Holding a position for a prolonged duration to elongate a muscle at its end range.

What do we achieve? Muscle relaxation, lengthening of a stiff muscle, improved flexibility.

Dynamic Stretch– Movement based stretching, without a hold period. The muscle is elongated throughout its range with use of some momentum.

What do we achieve? Think of it as a trial session before your activity/exercise– elongates the muscle throughout its range, warms up the muscle, gets them ready for upcoming event.

There are other kind of stretches, but let’s focus on static and dynamic for our goals here.

So what kind of stretching should you do in your WARM UP sessions?Warm ups are important for every exercise session- not just high intensity cardio or running. It is also needed for a brisk walk, strength training session or a dance class.

Most people perform static stretches before and after an activity/sport. Get ready to find out some facts.

Static Stretching in warm up does not prevent injuries.1 Neither does it prepare your muscles for the activity.

In fact, dynamic stretching improves your performance by improved blood supply to the muscle, increased force production by the muscles.2

Seriously? If you have been static stretching in warm up, time to change it up. Keep reading to find out why.

There is a constant debate whether static stretching in warm up session hinders performance. The latest news on this topic is- duration of static stretching has different effects on the muscle strength and performance. Stretching a muscle longer than 15 seconds may cause decrease in muscle strength immediately for the following exercise or sport.3 This is not a long lasting permanent effect on strength.

Warm ups should consist of mild aerobic exercise, dynamic stretches especially the ones that are specific to activity or sport. For example, if you are warming up before a run, perform dynamic stretches for legs, arms and trunk since running engages everything. Same goes with brisk walks. If you are warming up before an upper body strength training session, make sure you do dynamic stretches involving shoulders, arms and trunk.

Static stretches in warm up sessions has shown no improvement in sport/activity performance or no immediate injury prevention. Then why give it that precious time of our warm up that we always complain we lack.

Static stretching has its own place. It is best to perform static stretching after an exercise session in a cool down. Static stretching helps relax the warm, worked out muscles and helps retain its pre-exercise length.

However, do not expect less soreness in your muscles because you stretched before and after workouts. Static or dynamic stretching has no effect on delayed onset muscle soreness.4 Yes, you read that right!

So Why Stretch at all? Because Static stretching helps with flexibility. And more flexible you are, less stiff your muscles are. Which in return helps with overall injury prevention and muscle soreness. So static stretching should be avoided before a workout/sport, but incorporating it in cool down session or following a stretching routine during the week is perfect.

How to effectively stretch to get more flexible? It’s all in the duration and frequency of the stretch. It has been shown that sustaining a stretch for 30 seconds, twice daily is quite effective in improving muscle flexibility. Stretching for 30 seconds is as effective as for 60 seconds.5 Also, stretching 3 times/week is as effective as stretching daily, provided you stretch twice each day.6

Why all this evidence jargon? To show that it doesn’t take too long. We don’t stretch as much as we should. That includes me too. Yes!!! 30 seconds hold repeat twice, 3 times/week is all it needs.

There are few good static stretches here and here to get you started.

What’s the bottom-line?

  1. Warm up should consist of dynamic stretches. Do not stretch a cold muscle before a workout.
  2. Cool down is a good time for static stretches.
  3. Static stretching performed 3 times/week, emphasizing on 30 seconds hold and repeated twice each day significantly improves muscle flexibility.

Some great dynamic and static stretching exercises coming up in next post. Stay Tuned!!

  1. Pope RP, Herbert RD, Kirwan JD, Graham BJ. A randomized trial of preexercise stretching for prevention of lower-limb injury. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2000;32(2):271‐277. doi:10.1097/00005768-200002000-00004
  2. Van Gelder LH, Bartz SD. The effect of acute stretching on agility performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2011;25(11):3014‐3021. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e318212e42b
  3. Alizadeh Ebadi L, Çetin E. Duration Dependent Effect of Static Stretching on Quadriceps and Hamstring Muscle Force. Sports (Basel). 2018;6(1):24. Published 2018 Mar 13. doi:10.3390/sports6010024
  4. Herbert RD, Gabriel M. Effects of stretching before and after exercising on muscle soreness and risk of injury: systematic review. BMJ. 2002;325(7362):468. doi:10.1136/bmj.325.7362.468
  5. Cini A, de Vasconcelos GS, Lima CS. Acute effect of different time periods of passive static stretching on the hamstring flexibility. J Back Musculoskelet Rehabil. 2017;30(2):241‐246. doi:10.3233/BMR-160740
  6. Cipriani DJ, Terry ME, Haines MA, Tabibnia AP, Lyssanova O. Effect of stretch frequency and sex on the rate of gain and rate of loss in muscle flexibility during a hamstring-stretching program: a randomized single-blind longitudinal study. J Strength Cond Res. 2012;26(8):2119‐2129. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e31823b862a

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