Gone are the days of holding stretches before performing a workout or playing your sport.
Research has shown that static stretching can decrease the amount of force a muscle can produce, which makes it less than ideal to do before sports or a strength workout.
That's why nearly every strength coach has his or her athletes perform some type of dynamic warm-up before a workout, practice or game. And rightfully so. A dynamic warm-up prepares the body for intense activity by elevating body temperature, increasing range of motion and activating muscles.
But as strength experts Mike Boyle and Alwyn Cosgrove point out in Boyle's New Functional Training for Sports manual, we went from one end of the spectrum to the other. We used to static stretch before a workout and now we never do.
Both guys agree that we should be somewhere in the middle.
And new research out of the Federal School of Rio De Janeiro confirms this approach.
The researchers assessed how a dynamic warm-up, static stretching and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching affect strength. If you're not familiar with it, PNF stretching involves a static stretch followed by a contraction of the affected muscle, which tricks the muscle into allowing for a deeper subsequent stretch.
As suspected, the dynamic warm-up increased the number of reps that the nine male subjects could perform on the Leg Press, Leg Curl, Leg Extension and Hack Squat, compared to performing no warm-up at all. However, they also found that static stretching offered a nearly equal improvement, while PNF stretching reduced the number of reps the subjects could perform.
It appears that the intensity of PNF stretches temporarily screws up receptors within your muscles and alignment of muscle fibers, limiting the force a muscle can produce. Intense static stretching routines of 20 minutes can produce similar issues, but this study assessed stretches held for 3 sets of 30 seconds, which appeared to have minimal impact.
The researchers concluded that an optimal warm-up takes advantage of both dynamic drills and static stretches but should avoid PNF stretching until after workouts.
To put these recommendations into practice, follow Boyle's three-step warm-up guidelines below:
Step 1: Foam roll the major muscle groups you plan to train during your workout for 5-10 minutes, focusing on tight and tender areas.
Step 2: Stretch the muscles you foam rolled, as they are now primed to lengthen. According to Boyle, stretching a cold muscle is the only way to create permanent changes in the muscle.
Step 3: Perform dynamic warm-up drills, such as Skips, Lunges, World's Greatest Stretch and Glute Bridges, which increase body temperature and range of motion. Boyle explains that any potential power lost from static stretching should be restored by the dynamic warm-up.
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