How Should I Stretch Before Exercise to Avoid an Injury?
This is a common question that our physical therapists get asked by patients and gym members. Most expect us to say a steady, static stretch that is held for 30-45 seconds is best. We have been led to believe that this type of stretch will reduce our risk of injury during exercise and athletic activities. Although we have been taught this, it is wrong!
The fact of the matter is that static stretching for at least 30 seconds does not reduce your injury risk and will actually hinder your ability to exercise or play at your peak! This must mean that dynamic stretching (active movements) will reduce your injury risk, right? Nope, wrong again! I know this is crumbling the foundation of which you believe to be correct about stretching and how it protects from injury. The evidence is clear though, both static and dynamic stretches do not prevent injuries. So the next question is why do we even stretch then?
You should perform dynamic stretches or a dynamic warm-up, which includes rhythmic movements of your arms and legs before exercise to improve your performance. This will make your muscles and joints work more efficiently during exercise and athletic activities. This improvement in performance can mean running or cycling for a longer distance or lifting heavier weight. In contrast, static stretching has been shown to impair your performance!
Therefore, before you exercise or play a sport, use dynamic movements which may include butt kicks, leg swings, arm circles and/or jumping jacks. Let the activity or sport you will be performing dictate how you warm-up. Static stretching is best performed after the activity to maintain flexibility and reduce muscle soreness.
Stretching alone does not reduce injury risk. Muscle flexibility, joint range of motion, muscle strength and coordination ALL have a role in keeping you as injury free as possible.
Remember, before you exercise or play a sport, use dynamic stretching with a warm-up to best achieve your potential. The movements should mimic the activity you will be performing to ready your joints and muscles to optimize your performance!
Ask your physical therapist for suggestions on how best to improve your exercise regimen or play at your optimal performance level!