How many times have you seen someone in their yard, dressed for a run through the neighborhood, doing a couple of stretches before they head out? They probably did the stretch where they bend their leg back and hold their foot with their hand for a few seconds and then just got started, right? Conventional wisdom has long held that this type of stretching, known as “static stretching,” was the best way to prepare the body for exercise. This is no longer true. Not only is it not true, it can actually lead to injuries. The best way to warm up for exercise is known as “dynamic stretching.”
Static stretching is simply putting the body in some sort of stretched position and holding it for some amount of time. Studies have shown that static stretching actually burns strength. This burning of strength leaves the muscles unprepared for the activity to follow and can cause injury. Anybody who has ever done yoga class will know the feeling: you walk out of the class feeling rubbery, like your legs can barely hold your weight. Yoga is a good workout, but you would not want to try to run or cycle long distances afterwards. A better way to warm up is to do “dynamic stretching.”
Dynamic stretching basically involves movement. The movements start off slow and tight and gradually ramp up through faster movements through a more complete range of motion. This type of movement can even be turned into a “mobility” workout, where you are specifically focused on your ability to move through a full range of motion. Some good examples of dynamic stretches include leg swings, where you stand on one leg and swing the other leg side to side and back and front. You may need to hold on to something as you do this. Swing the leg in a slow and controlled manner to start and gradually speed up the swing and lengthen the distance of the swing until you feel loose. You can warm up your arms by swinging them in small circles (both directions) followed larger circles.
Static stretching does have its place. It is a good thing to do after a workout, particularly if you have been getting sore from your workouts. Static stretching will help loosen up the muscles after the workout and minimize the amount of soreness you feel the next day. However, when warming up for a run or a ride, whether your focus will be on endurance or sprinting, you should start with dynamic movements to get the blood flowing and prepare the body for what is to follow. You will feel loose, prepared, and ready to go. Good luck!
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