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Why NOT to Stretch Before Training

by Editor

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I have a theory about motocross athletes. Growing up through elementary, middle, and high school, guys who raced motocross did not typically play stick and ball sports. They were too busy riding after school and traveling to races on the weekends to play football, baseball, or basketball. They were "that" kid in school. The one who did not play other sports. Because of this, they were not generally exposed to coaches (good or bad) and what they knew about fitness and training either came from their buddy who played sports, or worse yet, their older brother who most likely raced too. Needless to say the knowledge pool on fitness and training was pretty shallow.

I want riders to understand that while this is not the end of the world, it's also not the best way to prepare the body for exercise.

No matter how shallow the pool, every one learned at a young age that a good warm-up and stretch was paramount before an activity. It was drilled into every kid who ever took PE or walked onto a ball field. The routine was similar on every basketball court, baseball diamond, and football field: run around to warm-up and then stretch. Sure we all did some form of dynamic stretching like knee lifts and arm circles, but I'm willing to bet almost everyone reading this ended with a series of static stretching (stretching a muscle and holding for 10-15 seconds). I was a three sport athlete through school and was exposed to coach after coach guiding our team through a warm-up that always ended with the proverbial static stretch. Sure they did a good job making sure we ran around first by shooting baskets or running around the field, but they still ended with a series of static stretching. Turns out that even though coach had good intentions, he was a little off in his methods.

I've wanted to write this article for quite sometime since I continually witness motocross athletes static stretching before riding or hitting the gym. I want riders to understand that while this is not the end of the world, it's also not the best way to prepare the body for exercise. As I was doing some preliminary research on the topic, I came across the following article that I thought explained the topic so simply and accurately that instead of reinventing the wheel, I would reproduce it for you here. - Virtual Trainer

Source: Thankyourbody.com

The Surprising Truth About Pre-Performance Stretching

Have you ever stretched before exercise? I’m betting you have. And you probably still do. I’m right there with you! I grew up, as most of us did, with sports teams that stretched in big circles as a team, holding each static stretch for 10 seconds before moving onto the next.

Funny thing is, we’ve been duped. With 62% of sports injuries occurring in PRACTICE, this seemingly preventative measure is not as it seems. Look at the *supposed* purposes of stretching next to the evidence…

The Evidence Against Pre-Performance Stretching

1. To prevent injury or muscle soreness.

Hundreds of studies prove that stretching does not prevent injury or muscle soreness (McGuff & Little, 2009). In fact, a 2010 study tracked injuries in 1400 runners for three months. Half the group was assigned to a 3 – 5 minute stretching routine before their workout. The other half did not stretch. In the end, both groups had 16% injury rate, proving there’s no benefit to stretching (Pereles, Roth & Thompson, 2010)

2. To “warm-up” and improve flexibility.

As Dr. Doug McGuff explains in Body by Science:

Stretching does not ‘contract’ muscles, and since contraction is what draws blood into a muscle and generates metabolic activity to provide a ‘warm-up,’ there is no warming up imparted by stretching… Putting a ‘cold’ muscle in its weakest position (fully stretched) and [applying] a load of sorts… is one sure way to injure it (McGuff & Little, 2009).

3. To improve strength and performance.

Decreased Strength:

A 2006 study by the American College of Strength found subjects that did six 30-second stretches prior to a one-rep-max test of knee flexion DECLINED strength by 12.4 percent (Nelson, Winchester, Kokkonen, 2006)!

Decreased Performance:

Results from 23 studies showed that when stretching was performed at times other than BEFORE performance, there may be positive outcomes, but stretching pre-performance may have insignificant or negative performance outcomes (Kravitz, 2009).

Now that we know static stretching before exercise does not enhance any performance markers, what are the best ways to maximize these things – flexibility, injury prevention and muscle soreness, strength, and performance – both BEFORE and AFTER exercise?

The Ideal Warm-Up

1. Sports Specific Movements

Do this exactly as it sounds. If you’re going to play basketball, then start warming up with some shots and light jogging up and down the court.

If you’re going to play tennis, start volleying shots back and forth, and start with varying speed drills like in a tennis game.

If you’re going to lift weights, warm-up with light weight or body weight movements.

(If you're going to warm-up for motocross, follow this advice from Coach Seiji.)

Gradually increase the intensity until you get a sweat going!

Total Time: 10 – 20 minutes

2. Dynamic Stretching

Dynamic stretching involves active movements of muscle that bring forth a stretch but aren’t held in the end position.

It is the opposite of static stretching, and works by sending signals from the brain to the muscle fibers and connecive tissues to prepare them to do work.

It also gets the blood flow moving to the area, and improves range of motion and flexibility (Norcal, 2011). Science has shown that it improves speed and performance, too, unlike static stretching (Musham & Hayes, 2010)!

Examples of dynamic stretching movements include:

  • A warm-up run for 400 meters
  • Skipping to the highest height for 20 yards
  • Leg swings
  • Body weight movements like lunges, air squats, and jump squats

Total Time: Aim for 10 – 20 minutes.

(Check out one of the warm-up routines Coach Seiji set up for members of the Virtual Trainer premium training community.)

Note: There’s no need to do both sports-specific warm-up AND the dynamic stretching warm-up; you can choose either, or you can do both if you want a more thorough warm-up!

3. Injury – Consult a Doctor and/or Sports Trainer

In the event of an injury or fracture, contact your doctor and/or a sports trainer for advice on how to best warm-up pertaining to a specific injury.

For chronic injuries like sprained ankles, complete full ranges of joint motion to warm up the proprioceptors, or sensory receptors in the joints, tendons and muscles. For example, sit down and circle your left ankle 5 circles to the right, and then 5 circles to the left. Repeat for the right ankle.

The Ideal Cool Down

1. Active Stretching

Basically, finish how you started. Slowly jog and incorporate dynamic stretching movements (like leg swings).

Another way: Pick a stretch, such as a hip flexor stretch, and slowly ease into and then out of the stretch so that it’s a slow motion movement. Repeat several times and move on to the next leg. Here are a few examples.

(When riding motocross, after your moto, remove all riding gear and put on comfortable shorts and shoes, and get on a stationary bike. If you don't have a stationary bike follow the advice above).

2. Static Stretching

Now is the time to incorporate static stretching, which can help minimize soreness!

For each position, it is ideal to hold over 30-seconds for the muscle to relax. Holding the position for as long as 3 – 5 minutes per stretch is optimal.

(Need a good post riding routine to follow for motocross. Try this.)

Here’s to a spreading the new stretching paradigm, and to better health, performance, strength, flexibility, and reduced injuries in your world!

Want more? Check out my sports nutrition tips and exercise ideas!

References
Kravitz, Len. Stretching – A Research Retrospective. Idea Health and Fitness Association. November 2009. http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/stretching-research-retrospective.

McGuff, Doug and Little, Joe. Body by Science. New York, New York: McGraw Hill, 2009.

Musham, C., Hayes, P.R. Effect of pre-exercise stretching on repeat sprint performance. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2010; 44. http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/44/14/i27.3.abstract.

Nelson, A.G., Winchester, J.B., Kokkonen, J. A Single Thirty Second Stretch Is Sufficient to Inhibit Maximal Voluntary Strength. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 38 Suppl. no. 5. May 2006.

Pereles, Daniel, Roth, Alan, Thompson, Darby. A Large, Randomized, Prospective Study of the Impact of a Pre-Run Stretch on the Risk of Injury in Teenage and Older Runners. USA Track & Field. 20 August 2010. http://www.usatf.org/stretchStudy/StretchStudyReport.pdf.

What is Dynamic Stretching? Why is Dynamic Stretching Important? Norcal Strength & Conditioning. 20 May 2011. http://www.norcalsc.com/what-is-dynamic-stretching-why-is-dynamic-stretching-important.

photo credit: Nicholas_T via photopin cc

That's it for now, until next time, good luck with your training and remember, if you have a question, log on to the Virtual Trainer Expert Forum and have your question answered by a panel of experts. In addition, be sure and check out the Racer X Virtual Trainer archive section. Your complete one-stop information zone for motocross fitness. VT Signature

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Discussion

  1. Gravatar
    kimbrian Bergh December 12, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    hi guys
    I have to disagree a bit. Stretching is about lengthening a muscle after workout (particularly to take it outside it's comfort zone, so the 4/5 exercises named in the article are not going to cut it. Look at dancers, gymnasts etc. They are the most flexi people out there and they static stretch daily. Injuries whether scientifically supported occur by going beyond your physical limit of a tendon, ligament and/or muscle (dancers and gymnasts also get injured) whether by accident or on purpose, its got nothing to do with before or after stretching. A good warmup is a must, but stretching before is not a sin.

  2. Gravatar
    The Rock December 12, 2013 at 12:47 pm

    I had to disagree a lot. Won't waste anymore time elaborating but this article's premise Why Not to Stretch Before Training is a definite FAIL in my book.

  3. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer December 12, 2013 at 1:10 pm

    Kimbrian - Which 4/5 exercises are you referring to? And like I quoted at the top, "I want riders to understand that while this is not the end of the world, it's also not the best way to prepare the body for exercise." And I agree that dancers and gymnasts are extremely flexible people but the science supports the notion that stretching before exercise is of no benefit and may lead to increase risk of injury. And I FULLY support daily stretching. I just don't support it BEFORE exercise.

    The Rock - If you can't elaborate I have to question why you think its' a fail. Do you have scientific research or can you point to a study that supports your POV? If so, I'd love to read it. If I'm wrong, I'll gladly retract this article and print yours in its place. Did you read the studies sited and their conclusions? Or do you have your mind made up about this no matter what the studies find.

  4. Gravatar
    The Rock December 12, 2013 at 1:59 pm

    Thanks for the quick response. I don't have my mind made up but I do know at 57 years old after a lifetime of racing MX, eleven broken bones and a herniated L5 and bulging L4 I can't fix breakfast without stretching. Okay that's an exaggeration but for me personally not stretching before training, riding or racing doesn't make sense. During the my last 2.5 year REM career I kept an inversion table at the track and in addition to the stretches I did at the track the inversion table was a life saver. I'm looking at an inversion table at this very moment here in my office.

    I will give you that not everyone is a beat up old guy like me so perhaps if you qualified the article by saying for 18 to 25 year olds you don't have to stretch it would keep the lawyers and anal retentive (should that have a hypen?) people happy.

    Love the Virtual Trainer and keep up the great work.

  5. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer December 12, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    I think you are misunderstanding the article just a bit. I'm in no way saying that stretching is not good. It is absolutely 100% imperative and we all should stretch multiple times per day. I too cannot get out of bed in the morning without stretching. I take at least a 1/2 hour shower every morning and do plenty of static stretches while in the hot water. I feel great afterwards. I'm just pointing out that if you really want to split hairs it is not the "best" idea to static stretch immediately before exercise. Warm-up via cardio and dynamic stretching is proving to be a more beneficial means of preparing the body. I am also directing this article to those who static stretch for up to a 1/2 hour or longer before they ride or train. One or two static stretches before hand is certainly not going to kill you, but still the research suggests that this can increase the risk of injury and decrease muscle strength. So why risk it. And for us older dudes (I'm soon to be 47) the risk could be even greater.

    And I static stretch anywhere from 45 min to an hour after most every workout. So I get plenty of stretching in as should everyone.

  6. Gravatar
    Rusty Moore December 12, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    Been Static stretching for years before my P90X workout. good to know I've been wasting my time. now I can cut my 58 minute workout to 45 minutes. Hercules and I thank you. every minute counts

  7. Gravatar
    Justin Murray December 12, 2013 at 8:41 pm

    Great article. I am a physical therapist and a life-long MXer. It has been well documented that static stretching immediately before an athletic event does not reap the benefits that is was once thought to. As the editor mentioned above it has been repeatedly shown to have No significant effect on injury rate and actually decrease the power that a muscle can generate for a period of time. What Rock is saying may make sense for him, as he cites some of his orthopedic issues that may require some specific attention prior to activity. Also as the editor mentioned, static stretching on general is extremely beneficial, and should be a part of daily activities. I agree with kimbrians response that stretching needs to be apart of daily activities to prevent injury/muscle tightness, etc. Just not immediately prior to athletics/training. Anyway, that's my .02 cents, and again, nice article Ed!

  8. Gravatar
    Pelotrain Athlete Excellence December 13, 2013 at 1:33 am

    This article is spot on and very good. There is NO benefit to pre-excercise stretching atall and there is scientific evidence to back this up. Post workout there is a big benefit to adaption.

    ROCK: Unless you can prove why it is a FAIL and atleast elaborate your post holds no substance.

    Good article Tim.

  9. Gravatar
    Aussie joe December 13, 2013 at 3:23 am

    As an experienced weight lifter, with parents who row for Australia, and a brother who is a personal trainer, i totally agree with this article. I never static stretch before lifting, as said in the article "you actually weaken your muscle by 15-20% when static stretching. Light weights to let your muscles know you've come to work, and a five minute jog on the treadmill to get get the blood moving is all you need...

  10. Gravatar
    Greg Roberts December 13, 2013 at 6:09 am

    Interesting.

    I guess all we've observed of today's pros in the pits AFTER the autograph signing sessions are, as it turns out, wrong.

    Does "the editor" of this article spend any more time in the pits of pro SX/MX beyond that of the autograph lines? Ya' better fella' because, according to YOU and "YOUR SOURCES," you've got ALOTTA' work to do straightening out all those extraordinarily physically pros of today. I guess all those pros that I've observed in their pre-practice and pre-race regimes are simply out of touch...with all "your sources" and references.

  11. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer December 13, 2013 at 10:59 am

    Greg - I've been training riders and a part of this industry my entire life and can say with 100% confidence, most of today's riders are absolutely doing it "wrong." The guys who are doing it "right" are continually at the top winning championships. Look what Aldon Baker has done. I know Aldon well and he consults quite a bit on this website. His warm-up protocols do not include static stretching. The most glaring (and hard to watch) aspect of training I see almost every pro rider get wrong is a poor warm-up. I go back to my theory that riders are not your typical stick and ball athletes and are therefore never exposed to coaches. I can't tell you how many pros (even guys with several years at the pro level) tell me that they have never worked with an athletic coach or trainer. NEVER. And remember, I'm referring to static stretching IMMEDIATELY before exercise (or a race). Not 30-60 minutes prior. One area pros do get right is on the start line. I very seldom see riders static stretch. I see arm circles, torso twists, knee raises, and other dynamic stretches. All good stuff.

    Don't get me wrong, I agree that pro riders are some of the fittest athletes around. But the knowledge base for training in this sport at both the professional and amateur level is quite low when compared to other sports. The entire point of this website is to raise that level of intelligence. Discussions like this are what drives the knowledge base even higher. Thanks!

  12. Gravatar
    Nick Dionne December 13, 2013 at 9:01 pm

    OK this is a great article. For the point being made stretching as a warm up should not be the only method as a matter of fact cardiovascular should take place to get the blood flowing followed by a stretch to keep the blood flowing and lactic acids from building during the ride. When you go to school like I did to become a training professional you'll find that you do indeed stretch and before and during workout sessions between each set. There are plenty of articles out there opposing this idea but the ones writing them are not professional and most likely don't even hold certification let alone a degree in training. Stretching can and will prevent injury time and time again as anyone who has ever had a strenuous workout can tell you" it helps relieve the pain" also helps to prevent injury with the machines. Don't be so quick to believe an idea just because its posted in some magazine and take it from someone who makes $40-80 per hour all day long.

  13. Gravatar
    Justin Murray December 13, 2013 at 10:09 pm

    Nick- You are way off base with regards to current PROFESSIONAL literature. Check his sources again, they are legitimate medical journals and the studies were performed by people with many more intitials after their name than you or I. Having your clients engage in static stretching in between sets of resistance training is not ideal, the power that the respective muscle can generate is impaired by up to 15% for a short time. If what you have going works for you, then by all means keep on trucking....but if you are making that kind of money I think you owe it to your clients to be evidence-based with regards to current literature and not depend on older information that you may have obtained in school or elsewhere. Maybe then you can charge $100 per hour!

  14. Gravatar
    coolhand December 14, 2013 at 5:29 am

    I think I'll wait a few years to see how this pans out. At 57 years old I've see these studies come and go. Kind of like milk and eggs are a killer for you then they are good then they are bad.
    Google it and there are tons of articles that say its good for you. So a new one comes out and we jump on it because it cuts out 15 min. from our work out?

  15. Gravatar
    Pelotrain Athlete Excellence December 14, 2013 at 8:04 am

    Nick - I would go back to school and ask your teacher what lactic acid is? Unless he tells you its the biggest myth known to athletes and trainers he is way off and because you have used the word and believe in "Lactic Acid" you have killed many kittens around the world.

    Your matter of fact has no fact in it. What you should say is raising your lactate turnpoint will permit higher intensity exercise before the on-set of blood lactate accumulation, which would otherwise result in premature fatigue. This has nothing to do with stretching due to the fact that 5 min after stretching your muscles and tendons return to normal so it do not help in anyway when riding or whatever you are doing.

    If you are charging $40-$80 p/hr with the information you are posting here is scary. Your knowledge or lack there of is so outdated.

  16. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer December 15, 2013 at 10:15 am

    THIS IS DIRECTED AT NO ONE IN PARTICULAR .....

    Great discussion fellas but remember to keep it professional. Intelligent discussion is how to move a point forward. No need to get defensive and all pissed off because someone disagrees with your POV. If you have a counterpoint to this article or someone else's statement, prove it by citing research. Don't just rely on the old "it's what I was taught in school" argument. Cite the research from credible organizations and present your argument with intelligence. Otherwise it's just he-said she-said and no one benefits from that.

    Okay....carry on!

  17. Gravatar
    The Rock December 16, 2013 at 6:18 pm

    I will continue to stretch before working out and riding because this works for me. I don't have a paper to reference on why it helps me it just does.

  18. Gravatar
    Joel Younkins December 18, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    I think what we need to look at in training, is things are typically not black and white...We like to make generalization and create structure to make life easier on ourselves. Do I advocate only static stretching before training session? Absolutely not...But I am not against using it if when/if we have to during various times of training. Everyone should be educated that there must be some sort of active dynamic warm up that increase your HR and stimulates your nervous system. But if you need to add "static stretching" into your warm up for a particular reason, that you can justify to improve training, then at least you have a reason for doing so...Also, different types of athletes typically respond better to different styles of static stretching and PNF stretching..

  19. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer December 19, 2013 at 5:43 pm

    The Rock - Just to play devils advocate, how do you know it actually works for you if you have never done things any other way. All I'm saying is that the research shows that static stretching BEFORE exercise has certain negative effects. I have to scratch my head a little as to why you wouldn't want to look at the research and at least say, hey there may be a better way. Who knows, by not static stretching (and substituting more dynamic stretching) you may in fact have MORE productive workouts.

    But the bottom line is, I'll continue to do the research and find things that I think can help. Whether you all try them, believe them, think I'm crazy, or whatever is up to you. Good discussion guys!

  20. Gravatar
    Mac December 29, 2013 at 5:48 am

    No mention of foam rolling before stretching interesting. Picture a muscle as a band with a knot in it, the foam roller is what unties the knots. This is allows us to stretch.

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