Every football team I have been involved in since a young age really emphasises the importance of static stretching prior to kick-off or before a training session. In this post I hope to look briefly at static and dynamic stretching and what they do to the muscles. I aim to present a more effective alternative and help you rethink how you go about preparing for exercise or sport.
Warming-up – It’s not rare to see individuals immediately proceed into to their workout or into high intensity activity without having an adequate warm-up. A warm-up is an extremely important element of any workout or exercise and I have seen occasions where an individual has not warmed up adequately and injury has occurred as a result.
What is the purpose of a warm-up?
A warm-up’s main purpose is to prepare the body for exercise.
Completing a full warm-up will do several things to the body:
– Increase body temperature – Increase heart rate
– Increase circulation – Improve proprioception
– Increase elasticity of muscles and connective tissue
An increase in heart rate and circulation facilitates blood flow to the muscles and also provides an increase in the amount of oxygen the muscles receive.
An increased in body temperature leads to an increased elasticity of muscles and connective tissues. Combine that with an improved proprioception, which occurs through the activation of neural pathways, and flexibility will increase which will
reduce the risk of sustaining injury.
(Neural pathways are a series of nerve cells which help to pass electrical impulses around the brain whilst proprioception refers to the body’s awareness of it’s own position and motion.)
Why do we stretch?
Stretching has been seen to improve circulation and range of motion, reduce muscular tension, and improve muscular co-ordination. With these benefits in mind, it is important that we stretch as part of the warm-up.
Types of Stretching
There are numerous different types of stretching, however, I only want to focus on 2 types which are known as static and dynamic stretches.
A static stretch where the muscle is lengthened to the point of discomfort and where the individual feels they cannot stretch any further. That position is then held for a short period of time.
Static example – Quad hold
A dynamic stretch is where the muscle(s) are stretched through movement. Movement is generated and move the muscles into an extended range of motion.
Dynamic example – Front Kicks
A typical warm-up would include some light cardiovascular exercise followed by some stretching (whether that be static or dynamic).
So, we’ve covered the purpose of a warm-up, why we stretch and the 2 most common types of stretches. In this next session I want to discuss why I tend to avoid static stretching as a form of warm-up.
Power output / muscular force reduced
Several scientific studies exist which have examined the relationship between static stretching and it’s impact on generated muscular force. Recent findings indicate that static stretching could potentially adversely impact muscle power performance however, more research needs to be done to confirm this.
One recent meta-analysis reviewed over 100 studies on this topic and suggests that “static stretching as the sole activity during warm-up routine should generally be avoided.”
You can read the study here
Therefore, in preparation for a big game or heavy training session, it wouldn’t make sense to perform an exercise which has the potential to diminish muscular performance and power production. It is precisely for this reason why I avoid static holds during a warm-up. As a part of my cool-down? Absolutely. But not as part of a warm-up.
“There is a neuromuscular inhibitory response to static stretching,. The straining muscle becomes less responsive and stays weakened for up to 30 minutes after stretching, which is not how an athlete wants to begin a workout” – Malachy McHugh, Director of research, Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma, New York.
Exercise / Sport Specific Stretching
Dynamic stretching will bring all the benefits of a warm-up mentioned above and yes, whilst static stretching will also effectively warm up the muscles, it has very little relevance to activity you are about to take part in. For example, during football when do players ever need to move the body into a static pose and hold that position for a prolonged period? Never. Football is all about dynamic movements – jumping, running, bounding etc.. With this in mind, dynamic stretching is the obvious choice as it utilises these types of movements in order to effectively ready your muscle in a sport specific manner.
Performing dynamic stretches prior to a game will help the muscles become accustomed to the movements that they are going to have to perform regularly within a game situation. Again I will use football as an example – it would be beneficial for a centre-back to perform vertical jumps before a game as this is a movement they will be required to perform time and time again when they challenge for a header.
Ensuring the muscles are suitably and specifically prepared for the activity ahead can have a positive impact on performance.
When to use Static Stretching
As I mentioned briefly, I tend to use static stretches as a form of cool down. Cool down is performed after intense exercise and it is at this point that you can think about stretching out these muscles that may be tight and sore as a result of the activity. Static stretching will help to reduce any muscular tension and can help in relaxation too.