Everyone who has ever done exercise knows that you should be stretching. It’s like flossing every day; we all know we need to do it. But something a lot of people don’t know about stretching, is that it isn’t a case of one stretch (or type of stretch) for all occasions. It is not uncommon to see recreational runners “warming up” with a set of static stretches before their runs, not knowing that this can decrease performance at best and increase risk of injury at worst.
Well then, I hear you asking, what should we be doing? What is the best way to optimise performance and minimise
injuries? The answer is simple – dynamic stretching to warm up (before exercise) and static stretching to cool down (after exercise).
Static stretching is the kind we are often most familiar with; where we take the muscle into the stretched position and hold it there for a period of time (usually about 30 seconds is recommended). Here is an example of a static quads stretch. It causes the muscle to relax, which is where the extra flexibility comes from. This is why it can be helpful following exercise, as it helps the muscles which have been working hard to relax and can help to prevent post-exercise cramping.
Dynamic stretching is where you take the muscle or joint you want to target through its full range of motion repetitively, without holding. One example is this leg stretch shown here, which dynamically stretches hamstrings, glutes and quads. Dynamic stretching takes the muscle through its full range of motion actively, which is closer to what the muscle will have to do during exercise. It helps to loosen the muscles without relaxing them, so your muscles are warm and ready to work.
Both types of stretching are ideal, and when used properly, can improve your performance, decrease yourrisk of injury, as well as help to decrease post exercise soreness.