Is Stretching Hurting You?

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Is Your Warm-UP Causing Your Injury?

Stretching. It never fails. Every time I walk into a big gym I see someone and think, “That’s going to hurt later.” I’d love to offer some advice, but people tend to favor injuries over the embarrassment of being corrected in a public place like the gym. Still, it’s very discouraging for me to see and for them to experience problem after problem.

What’s Wrong?

If you’re anything like me, you were taught an exercise routine in gym class and you have continued that routine ever since. It started with a long stretch of your muscles and followed by an exercise or sport of the day. Unfortunately, this is contradictory to what science tells us to do, but old habits are hard to break.

The goal of a good warm up is to loosen muscles and increase joint range of motion in order to perform better during the exercise. But, research has shown that traditional stretching before exercise can decrease muscle strength by as much as 30 percent and can stay that way for up to 30 minutes. As a result you are less likely to have the best performance of your life. To top it off, traditional stretching before you exercise increases your likelihood to injure something like your back, neck or shoulders.

What’s The Right Way to Warm-Up?

A great warm-up increases blood flow to your muscles, raises your body heat and literally warms up the joints that will be exercised. Without this step your muscles and joints maintain a stiffness and increase your chances of injury. A proper warm-up includes a gradual increase of intensity and range of motion. As an example a sprinter could start with a light jog and an Olympic lifter could start with a dynamic movements that increase in speed and range of motion.

Exactly What Should I Do?

The warm up you do should be based on the type of exercise you will be doing. If your exercise or sport requires upper and lower body movements it will be important to warm up the entire body.

The 4 Minute Warm Up.

The most common warm up I’ve taught my patients is what I call the 4 minute warm up, which includes 4 movements, each performed for 30 seconds, and then repeated for a total of two rounds. It includes upper and lower body movements and requires very little space. The four movements are marching in place, air squats, and side steps with back taps, and inch worms. Again, you will perform all these movements for 30 seconds and repeat them each for a total of 4 minutes.

What I like best about this warm-up is the scalability. An elite athlete can do marching high knees, deep squats, deep lateral lunges, and inch worms with push-ups. Or, if you are a beginner, you could perform light marching, shallow squats, small side steps and forward bends. The beginner and elite athlete will accomplish increased heart rate, blood flow and warming of the joints and increased range of motion without using the traditional stretching. It’s a great starting place for a great workout!

When Should I Stretch?

Stretching is best performed after you work out. Add in tissue mobilization bands, trigger point and myofascial work with a foam roller and lacrosse ball and you’re headed in the right direction!