Are you notorious for hitting the pavement early in the morning, rushing out the door to get the miles done, and not making time to loosen up effectively before you get out? Well, you’re in bad company. (Get it?…)
While many of us are on a tight schedule for the day, the importance of stretching is not to be misjudged. Lack of preparing the body for movement, can lead to joint pain, stress fractures, strains, and muscle damage. This is true across all athletic spectrums.
For example, let’s take the chronic sedentary office worker. Pounding away at the keyboard, they sit immobile for 6-8 hours at a time, leading to chronically shortened hamstrings. When the posterior thigh muscle group tightens, it inhibits the body’s ability to bend over due to tissue restriction and inhibits the body’s ability to bend the knee and extend the hip due to weakness. This primes the body for injury.
Assume said office worker is a weekend warrior who enjoys playing recreational tennis outdoors. They meet up with their tennis pals for a friendly game of doubles, but are too busy catching up, to warm up. The game begins, and after getting a few points under their belts, POP goes the hamstring. (That’s how the song goes right?). It really can be that quick and simple though.
Now let’s take the same chronic sedentary office worker and give them a standing desk and a magical awareness of dynamic warmups. They have a timer on their phone to remind them to transition from sitting to standing every 30 minutes at work. They meet up with their friends over the weekend and warmup with a little jog around the court, some side skipping, dynamic leg swinging, toe touching walks, and butt kickers. Before this office worker is even on to point number one, they are warm, they are loose, and they feel mobile. Ah, it feels good! Do we think the outcome is the same or different?
The significant fact here between the two stories, is that it doesn’t take much work to prevent the pop in the first place. Recent literature points to the fact, that in order to achieve proper tissue length, it’s all about the frequency. Give up that long, one-hour mobility Sunday for just 10-15 minutes of stretching daily, and you’re significantly less likely to experience injury.
So now the real question: how to stretch and when? It’s been reported that a sustained stretch (i.e 30 seconds or longer) is necessary to elongate the tissue fibers at the pathophysiologic level. But just as effective as a static stretch is at elasticity, that lengthening can inhibit power and force generation from the same fibers due to over-elongation. In plain terms, if we hold a stretch over 30 seconds, it makes us weaker for up to 30 minutes! Why is this important? Well, if we go old school and weaken our calves by holding a 30 second stretch before we play a high-level sport, we not only have decreased running and jumping efficiency, but we also risk overloading the muscle during play and contributing to potential injury.
So here’s the plan:
- Dynamic stretches are key to a strong, fortified active warmup. The type of warmup you do before sports or recreational activities. Try to incorporate some mobility work in here too, for fluid joint motion through ranges, priming the body in the same functional motor patterns. Keep it to less than 15 seconds, with higher repetitions of the motion.
- Static, sustained, prolonged stretching is for lengthening. The type of passive hold you want to do immediately after exercise to encourage elongation, or as a daily 10-15 minute stretching session before bed (trust me, you’ll sleep better!). Try to encourage 30-60 seconds here.
Have more questions? Ask us. We’re here to help.