There seems to be a lot of confusion about how and when stretching should be used as part of the warm up, and some people are under the impression that stretching should be avoided altogether.
This is a very important issue and needs to be clarified immediately. The rest of this article is dedicated to dispelling some common myths and misconceptions about stretching and its’ role as part of the warm up.
The Greatest Misconception
Confusion about what stretching accomplishes, as part of the warm up, is causing many to abandon stretching altogether. The key to understanding the role stretching plays can be found in the previous sentence. But, you have to read it carefully.
Stretching, as part of the warm up! Here’s the key: Stretching is a critical part of the warm up, but stretching is NOT the warm up.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that doing a few stretches constitutes a warm up. An effective warm up has a number of very important key elements, which work together to minimize the likelihood of sports injury and prepare the individual for physical activity.
Identifying the components of an effective and safe warm up, and executing them in the correct order is critical. Remember, stretching is only one part of an effective warm up and its’ place in the warm up routine is specific and dependent on the other components.
The four key elements that should be included to ensure an effective and complete warm up are:
The general warm up
This phase of the warm up consists of 5 to 15 minutes of light physical activity. The aim here is to elevate the heart rate and respiratory rate, increase blood flow and increase muscle temperature.
Next, 5 to 15 minutes of gentle static stretching should be used to gradually lengthen all the major muscle groups and associated tendons of the body.
The sports specific warm up
During this phase of the warm up, 10 to 15 minutes of sport specific drills and exercises should be used to prepare the athlete for the specific demands of their chosen sport.
Dynamic stretching involves a controlled, soft bounce or swinging motion to force a particular body part past its usual range of movement. The force of the bounce or swing is gradually increased but should never become radical or uncontrolled.
Please note; dynamic stretching carries with it a high risk of injury if used incorrectly. Dynamic stretching is more for muscular conditioning than flexibility and is really only suited for professional, well trained, highly conditioned athletes. Dynamic stretching should only be used after a high level of general flexibility has been established.
All four parts are equally important and any one part should not be neglected or thought of as not necessary. All four elements work together to bring the body and mind to a physical peak, ensuring the athlete is prepared for the activity to come.
So what conclusions can we make?
Stretching is beneficial, when used correctly. However, as with most activities there are rules and guidelines to ensure that they are safe, and stretching is no exception. Stretching can be extremely dangerous and harmful if used incorrectly.
Remember, stretching is just one very important component that assists to reduce the risk of injury and improve athletic performance. The best results are achieved when stretching is used in combination with other injury reduction techniques and conditioning exercises.