I remember my coaches in elementary and high school gym class always preaching the importance of stretching to avoid injury. When we are getting ready to exercise, we warm up and then stretch, right? But, does that protocol actually help us to avoid injury? I decided to do some research to find out.
Pre-Workout: Warm-Up Is Critical
There are many researchers assessing if stretching is beneficial as a part of a warm-up for injury prevention. “Stretching increases flexibility, but most injuries occur within the normal range of motion,” says Julie Gilchrist, M.D., a researcher with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She adds, “Stretching and warming up have just gone together for decades. It’s simply what’s done, and it hasn’t been approached through rigorous science.” Rather than focusing on stretching pre-training, Dr. Gilchrist suggests a very good warm-up to get the blood flowing and to prime the muscles for work. She adds that being properly conditioned for your sport and having enough flexibility to achieve a normal range of motion will help you to avoid injury.
A number of studies like one recently featured in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning found that passive static stretching (i.e., holding a stretch for an extended period) in the lower body actually caused a decrease in stability and power and suggest that such stretching should be avoided before workouts.
How To Warm-Up
An effective warm-up should engage all of your muscles, get your heart rate up and open and stretch your joints. You should put your body through exercises that are very similar to the ones you are getting ready to do in your training. This is called a dynamic warm-up. Once your blood is flowing, muscles are loosened up and relaxed, they are better prepared for the killer workout you are getting ready to give them. Posture is important during dynamic warm-up. Make sure you stand tall with your shoulders back.
Below are some examples of dynamic warm-up exercises:
Forward March: While keeping your back straight and shoulders back, step forward and bring one knee up at a time. It looks like you are marching, or walking fast, while trying to bring your knees to your chest. Keep your toes pulled up toward your shin. When you place the foot down, hit the ground directly beneath your body. Push your elbows back and maintain them at 90 degrees. Do this over 15 yards. Repeat twice.
Forward Skip: This is the same concept as the one above except you add a little bounce when the one knee is raised.
Side-to-Side Leg Swing: Stand with good posture and hold onto a wall or object with both hands. Keep your right leg straight, knee facing forward and swing your left leg to the side as high as you can. Keeping your hips forward. Swing it back toward your body and make it cross in front of your right leg. That’s one rep. Do this 10 times and then switch legs.
A few other exercises: Forward lunges with a twist, reverse lunges, glute bridges, lateral lunges, arm circles, forward kicks and backwards run.
Post-Workout: Static Stretch!
Post-workout is the best time for static stretching. This will help to re-lengthen muscles that have tightened during a workout, which will help you to maintain normal range of motion and prevent muscle imbalances and injury. Make sure to stretch ALL of your muscles, even the ones you feel you didn’t workout, because all muscles tie together. If one is extremely tight, it can affect the performance of the others. Pictured are a few of my favorite post-workout stretches to target the hips, hamstrings, inner thighs and lower back. Give these a try & let me know how you approach stretching and warming up below!
Until next time!
Gergley JC. Acute effect of passive static stretching on lower-body strength
in moderately trained men. J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Apr;27(4):973-7. doi:
10.1519/JSC.0b013e318260b7ce. PubMed PMID: 22692125.