You know the drill – it’s time to work out, so you start stretching to get your body loose and ready to move. For a long time, fitness experts thought that any stretching would benefit your workout.
However, recent research suggests that not all stretches are created equal. In fact, some stretches may actually hinder your overall performance.
DYNAMIC VS. STATIC
There are two main types of stretches – dynamic and static.
Dynamic stretching is designed to move joints and muscles in repetitive, slightly challenging motions over a set amount of time (e.g., jumping jacks). This movement helps prepare the body to exercise by increasing your heart rate and getting your muscles ready to work.
Static stretches involve holding a muscle or joint in a certain position for 30-60 seconds (e.g., touching your toes). This type of stretching helps by relaxing the body part and may increase the flexibility of the muscle’s tissue.
THE BOTTOM LINE: DYNAMIC STRETCHES BEFORE YOUR WORKOUT
Static stretches may actually decrease your muscle strength in the hour immediately following the stretches. Save static stretches for after your workout as a cool down.
When it comes to stretching immediately before a workout or run, use dynamic stretches. Dynamic stretches benefit your body by:
- Increasing your temperature so you are literally “warmed up”
- Mentally preparing you for the upcoming work out or sporting event
- Improving the range of motion of your joints
DYNAMIC STRETCHING EXAMPLES: PRIOR TO RUN
Getting ready for the APFT timed run? Here are examples of dynamic stretches to try right before you hit the run course. Experts suggest doing a combination of these dynamic stretches for about five minutes prior to the start of the event:
- High knees: Lift one knee up towards your chest before stepping back down. Lift your other leg up to your chest and back down. Repeat, alternating high knees on both legs. You can do high knees while standing in place or walking forward.
- Lunges: Walk forward while lunging during every step. Good form includes keeping your forward knee at 90 degrees while you bend down.
- Jumping jacks: Get your blood pumping by doing some good, old-fashioned jumping jacks.
- High kicks: Kick one leg up high, about chest height, to stretch out your hamstrings. Kick your other leg up high. Repeat, alternating kicks between both legs. Keep your arms at your sides and focus on getting each kick higher than the last.
DYNAMIC STRETCHING EXAMPLES: PRIOR TO PUSH-UP/SIT-UPS
Getting ready for a push-up or sit-up test? These two dynamic stretches will help you prepare:
- Arm circles before push-ups: Lift up your arms so that they are perpendicular to your body, sticking straight out. Move your arms in circles, first clockwise and then counter-clockwise. Do about three to five of these arm circles in each direction within five minutes of the start of the event.
- Torso twists before sit-ups: Stand straight, keeping your hips still, and twist your upper body from left to right. Do about two to three of twists to each side within five minutes of the start of the event.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Dynamic stretches, like the ones listed above, are great to use before your workout or APFT. Static stretches are best used as part of a cool down after exercise, or on your “off” days to increase strength and flexibility.