Stretching and Warm Ups – 10 Facts to Know
By Angela K. Morgan BS Health Science, ACSM CPT & UVAC Personal Trainer
Are stretching and warm ups the same thing? Should I participate in either before starting my work out? Are they a waste of time? Many people have asked the questions above and I would like to bring forth an article I recently read in the ACSM Health & Fitness Journal written by James A. Peterson, Ph.D., FACSM, to answer these questions and many more.
1. Stretching and warming up are not the same. Warming up allows your body to prep for the activity that will follow. Taking a few minutes for a low intensity full body exercise is classified as a warm up. You should warm up before stretching, because stretching cold muscles can lead to injury.
2. Studies show mixed results in the benefits of stretching. Studies have shown minimal to helpful benefits. Helpful benefits have been increased range of motion in your joints, improved muscular coordinate, along with increased blood circulation.
3. Stretch the muscles that will be used in exercise. When you stretch, you should focus on major muscles groups such as Quads & Hamstrings (i.e. Legs) if you are going for a jog.
4. Stretch in a smooth motion. If you bounce during your stretch, you are working against yourself. Allow a smooth motion to fully stretch your muscles, and stress (such as bouncing) can lead to tears in your muscle. Tears within the muscle can cause scar tissue as the muscle heals and causes your muscle to tighten more.
5. Avoid pain while stretching. Pain is your body’s signal that you have stretched to far. It may take time to differentiate the difference between discomfort and pain. Be aware that you may have some soreness the day after stretching.
6. Be aware of current muscle strains. In some cases you may need to avoid stretching a strained muscle in order to not cause additional damage. Stretching should also be abstained from if a joint is inflamed/injured/infected.
7. Four basic types of stretching. Ballistic – involves bouncing and is not recommended. Dynamic – is used in addition to a warm up routine, you are stretching while moving. I like to incorporate dynamic stretches during my classes or training sessions. Static and Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) are widely used and increase range of motion. PNF is commonly used in a clinical setting because you contract your muscle for a period of time and then need assistance to stretch it.
8. High levels of flexibility can be too much of a good thing. A few studies have shown people with high flexibility may be at a higher risk of injury. This being said, you can be very flexible and have joints that are structurally fine. It varies person to person, so approach stretching cautiously if you have not had it in your program before.
9. Age affects flexibility? Older adults inflexibility is mostly do to muscles not being used as often. This affects posture, coordination, and increases risk of injury (i.e. falls).
10. ACSM Recommendations. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends flexibility training 2-3 days a week. Hold your stretch for 10 to 30 seconds at a point of mild discomfort and repeat this 3-4 times per stretch. For the PNF stretches, each repetition should involve 6 second contraction of the muscle, followed by a 10-30 second assisted stretch.