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Warm-ups, Stretching, and Better Performance

No matter our active level; athlete, sedentary, a weekend warrior, young or old, the benefits of routine stretching reach far beyond rehabilitation.

What is stretching?

In general, stretching is the elongation of a muscle and is used to help prevent injury and discomfort. However, there are different types of stretching that are important to distinguish. One is best implemented as a warm-up to prepare your body for exercise and the other is best used as a cool-down to reduce post-activity muscle soreness.

Warm-ups

It’s important to ensure your muscles and joints are properly prepared for any type of exercise. Participating in exercise without warming up first puts you at risk for an injury because it places added stress on soft tissue structures that haven’t been prepped for activity. The effectiveness of your warm-up can not only affect the likelihood of injury, but also directly impacts your ability to perform to your maximum capacity.

Dynamic/Ballistic Stretching

Stretching plays a major role in maximizing your performance levels and should be a key part of any warm-up. Dynamic or ballistic stretching is the elongation of your muscles while moving through your available range of motion to prepare your muscles for activity. This type of stretching is an important component to a warm-up because it increases your muscles’ core temperature and gets your blood pumping to lay the groundwork for more movement. It stretching improves the range of motion around your joints, reducing the chances of injury. Over time, this will improve your performance, regardless of the intensity of the activity, and maximize your movements due to the increase in the mobility of your joints and flexibility of your muscles.

Dynamic stretching includes activity-specific and sports-specific warm-ups that prepare your body for particular movements during your sports or activity. If you are an athlete, this method of stretching gets your body into competition mode. Regardless of your activity level, dynamic stretching helps you develop fundamental movement skills through an available range of motion using more than one muscle group at the same time.

An example of dynamic stretching:

  • Knee-to-chest warm-up.
    • To perform, stand with your feet approximately hip width apart. March one knee up toward your chest and gently pull it in with both hands, release and repeat with your other leg. This is a great warm-up activity to perform before walking, hiking, running or playing any sport.

Static Stretching

Static stretching, on the other hand, is the slow elongation of a muscle or muscle group over a period of time to increase elasticity. This type of stretching is performed at the end range of motion without dynamic movement. Static stretches help improve overall flexibility of a single muscle or muscle group at one time, leading to increased joint mobility. The result of a static stretch is increased range of motion, muscle control and flexibility. Gradual, permanent tissue change develops from a slow-paced stretch held for at least 20-30 seconds.

The most effective way to achieve lasting tissue change with a static stretch is to hold it for at least 20-30 seconds, repeat it three times and perform it twice daily after exercise. Static stretching is best implemented after activity as a cool-down because your core temperature decreases with a gradually progressive stretch. The more a muscle can lengthen, the more work it can do. When a muscle is too tight, its function can be restricted, increasing your risk for injury if your muscles can’t operate optimally. An elongated muscle helps improve your biomechanics to ensure your body functions at its highest capacity.

An example of a static stretch:

  • Calf stretch.
    • To perform a static calf stretch, stand in front of a wall with your feet slightly staggered one in front of the other, slightly lunging toward the wall with both heels down until you feel a stretch in the back of your calf. Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds and repeat it three times. This stretch is beneficial as a cool-down activity after walking, hiking, running or playing any sport.

If you would like to learn more about stretching, our expert therapists and athletic trainers are on hand to help you understand movement patterns for optimal health and performance. Call our office today at 703-450-4300 to schedule an evaluation and begin your journey toward ideal biomechanics.

 CLICK HERE to watch a stretching demo for some muscles that are frequently tight in most people. 

 

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