There are two main reasons why we want to stretch our muscles; to warm-up/prepare for training and to improve flexibility. It is important to know the type of stretching you should be doing if you are warming-up versus the stretching you should be doing to improve flexibility and range of motion.
Before you read the rest of the article you may need to become familiar with the two different types of stretching I mention below, static and dynamic stretching.
Static stretching is where you hold a muscle in a stretched position for a period of time (commonly 10-30 seconds is used). It is important to know when you are over-stretching a muscle though. You should be able to feel a stretch on your muscle but it should not be uncomfortable or sore.
Dynamic stretching is where you perform passive movements that create a stretch on the target muscle. They can also be sport specific stretches, for example a simulated high kick to stretch the hamstrings for football. The main point to understand about dynamic stretching is that the stretch is not held and not forced. The videos at the bottom of the article demonstrate examples of dynamic stretching.
The majority of people use static stretching as part of their warm-up whether they are in the gym about to do strength training or they’re playing football but this can have a negative impact on your training. Studies have shown that static stretching before training can decrease the force produced by muscles resulting in a loss of power, a decrease in running speed and reaction. In contrast dynamic stretching has actually being shown to improve force production which would in turn increase power, running speed and reaction time. Therefore, I recommend performing dynamic stretching before any training or workouts and not using static stretching as part of your warm-up.
You may be thinking at this point that static stretching is not beneficial at all but you would be wrong, it still has benefits when it comes to flexibility. Static stretching can be great for increasing range of motion of joints by stretching the muscles responsible for the movement of that joint. As I said before dynamic stretching is best done as part of your warm-up but static stretching can be performed at to different times:
- After training or a workout
- As a standalone session separate to training
The reason that this is a good time to perform static stretching is because your core body temperature will be increased and therefore increases the elasticity in muscles and tendons allowing for a greater stretch.
As a Separate Session
This is best performed after a warm-up so rather than going straight into stretching you should perform a warm-up to increase your core temperature for the reasons stated above. These types of stretching sessions can be a beneficial the day after a tough training or game for example.