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What’s The Best Way to Stretch Muscles Before Workouts?

June 2015
Ideas for stretching muscles have varied over the years, but the last decade has negated nearly all of them. 
 
Until recently, the recommended preparation for most workouts involved “static stretching.” You’d stretch different muscles by pulling them to their limit and holding the stretch for 30 seconds, then release and repeat. 
 
What’s wrong with static stretching?
 
Static stretching is now known to decrease a muscle’s strength, its range of motion and its flexibility. In short, it’s doing exactly the opposite of what you wanted to accomplish. 
 
The static stretch signals to the body that it needs to protect the muscle from becoming overstretched. The muscle reacts by contracting, becoming shorter and as much as 30 percent weaker (Sept 2008, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, University of Nevada). As a result, the muscle can stay in a weakened state for up to a half hour. 
 
What’s The Alternative?
 
Today’s studies suggest that “dynamic stretching” is a far more effective way to prepare muscles for a workout. It involves a slow warm up, followed by specific movements that prepare the muscles for use. Body temperature rises, blood vessels dilate and blood flow increases to fuel the muscles. Your body prepares for exercise by becoming more flexible with greater movement and greater strength. 
 
How Do I Apply Dynamic Stretching? 
 
It’s a two-part process. 
 
1. Start with a light, aerobic warm up, such as an easy jog. Start at about 40 percent of your maximum heart rate and progress to about 60 percent. Spend five to 10 minutes warming up and allow a five-minute recovery period. 
 
2. Follow the warm up by stretching muscles with various range-of-motion movements where muscles are not taken to the end point of their flexibility. These movements activate all muscles, joints and connective tissue required for your activity. 
 
Dynamic stretching works best when it is sport specific. The movements you perform should be similar to those you’ll be doing in your activity. For example, runners might simulate a running movement, followed by lunges and squats. 
 
Do five or six repetitions of several movements related to your activity. Ten to 20 minutes of warmup and dynamic stretching will give you greater range of movement and power as you begin your workout. 
 
For an example of a dynamic stretching routine, visit this Runner’s World page
 
  • Do you stretch before every workout? 
  • Do you allow for recovery during stretching and after workouts? 
  • Have you ever tried dynamic stretching?
 

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