Athletes, more than anyone, know that working out and playing sports exercises their entire body, from muscles to brain, and everything in between. While we all know athletes’ routines involve intense workouts and training to enhance performance, another aspect involves preventing injuries and recovery. One of the most common ways athletes prevent injuries and help with recovery? Stretching.
While you may think there’s only one way to stretch, we’re presenting you with two! Let’s check out the types of stretching and when it’s best to perform each.
Dynamic stretching involves active movements while going through the joints and muscles’ full range of motion (instead of holding a stretch in one place). These stretches can be performed for any length of time and should be performed before a workout, since they prepare the muscles for the activity ahead and warm them up.
Dynamic stretches are functional and often mimic the movement of a sport or activity. For example, a cross country skier may move their legs front to back before they get on the tracks.
Other examples of dynamic stretches include:
- Forward lunge with a twist: When lunging forward, twist your torso towards the leg that is lunging forward. The lunge helps stretch legs, glutes, and hips, while the twist helps to stretch the middle back and the core.
- High kicks: Extend your arm straight out and kick upwards with your opposite leg (so that your toes hit your palm). This stretch helps to improve range of motion and warm up hamstrings.
- Jump squats: This stretch is great if you want to try something more challenging. While standing with your feet shoulder width apart, squat until your hips are parallel with the ground. Next, you’ll want to jump with as much force as you can, landing softly.
There are plenty of benefits to performing dynamic stretching, including improved flexibility, which helps to strengthen and increase range of motion, along with enhancing muscular performance which affects speed, agility and acceleration. Dynamic stretching also increases body awareness, getting you mentally and physically prepared for the movements and patterns you’ll perform and helps with explosive power movement which is particularly beneficial for those who play sports like soccer and volleyball.
When performing dynamic stretches, consider the following tips:
- Make sure you’re using the proper technique and perform dynamic stretches in a controlled way.
- Stop when you get tired - you still want to have energy to workout or perform as an athlete.
- Yoga moves can be used as a dynamic stretch (i.e. sun salutations for two minutes)
- Choose dynamic stretches that are relevant to your particular sport
- Never stretch to the point of pain.
Dynamic stretching offers many benefits, such as enhancing muscular performance and helps warm-up the body, making it an ideal stretch to perform before a workout or sport.
Unlike dynamic stretching, static stretching involves holding a position for about 20-45 seconds by moving a muscle to the end of its range of motion. Similar to foam rolling, static stretching should be performed after a workout. Static stretching performed before a workout can actually decrease an athlete’s performance. Since the muscles haven’t been warmed up yet, static stretching before a training session pulls apart and weakens the muscle fibers. Performing static stretching after a workout will provide the most benefits because the circulation to the muscles and joints has been increased (since you’ve been moving your body).
Examples of static stretches include:
- Hamstring stretch: Extend one leg in front of the other and bend your hips forward until you feel a stretch in the back of your thigh.
- Quadriceps stretch: Grab an ankle with your hand from the same side, extend your thigh backwards and bring your ankle towards your butt, feeling the stretch on the front of your thigh.
- Posterior capsule stretch: Guide one arm in front of your body and hold with the opposite arm just above the elbow pulling towards your body - you’ll feel this stretch in your shoulder.
Static stretching after a workout offers numerous benefits, such as greater flexibility/range of motion, which helps you move more comfortably and makes working out and daily tasks easier. Static stretching also reduces pain and decreases stress, which is especially important since stress causes your muscles to feel tight and strained. Stretching and relaxing enhances the mind-body connection. Other benefits include increased blood flow which helps your muscles recover more quickly, and even improved speed, strength and agility by having more flexible muscles. Static stretching has also been shown to help with the rehabilitation of an injury.
For athletes looking to improve their performance, it’s important to know that static stretching alone won’t reduce the risk of injury. Although static stretching helps to increase range of motion, your muscles still need strength to support you in these positions. Including some form of strength training will assist your joints’ mobility.
When performing static stretches, consider the following tips:
- When holding a static stretch, stay still and don’t bounce.
- You should never feel pain while stretching (a bit of tension is normal).
- The average time to hold a stretch is 30 seconds.
Static stretching helps to reduce pain and increase blood flow and is best performed after a workout, when the muscles are already warmed up.
Both dynamic and static stretching offer plenty of benefits - whether you’re an athlete looking to recover or you want to warm up before your fitness routine. As with any fitness routine, there’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to stretching - it’s best to perform stretches that will complement your fitness goals, and ensure that you stop stretching if it hurts.
Speaking of hurting, when an athlete suffers from an injury, it’s crucial for sports medicine professionals to track it and prescribe recovery methods, such as stretches, using an Athlete Electronic Health Record (EHR) like Presagia Sports. Tracking their athletes’ health status while using a secure solution enables sports medicine professionals to best manage their athlete’s performance and recovery!