Why NOT to Stretch Before Training
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
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.
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)!
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.
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!
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.
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.