For at least the past 10 years, new research on stretching and its various types is refining our knowledge on the advantages and disadvantages of stretching. Many would argue that there are no disadvantages to stretching, but herein lies the problem…it depends on what type of stretching you’re doing and when you are doing it.
Types of stretching include static stretching, dynamic stretching, ballistic stretching and assisted stretching. Static stretching or isometric stretching is when you work to lengthen a muscle to near extreme and hold it for 15-30 seconds. Dynamic stretching is stretching muscles while moving and not exceeding one’s static/passive stretching ability. Ballistic stretching is where bouncing is performed at the end range of motion and it went out of style with mall bangs because of its injury risk. Assisted stretching like PNF, active release and myofascial release are complex enough to need their own articles so let’s stay simple today.
Gretchen Reynolds in her article, “Stretching: The Truth” highlights the research that static stretching or isometric stretching is not only a waste of time, but bad for you. Top it off with cold muscles and you have a recipe for disaster. You see, the muscles act a bit like silly putty. (If you do not know what silly putty is then shame on you; enjoy your youth, read this and then come back to the convo.) Silly putty works best when warm. If you pull it apart slowly, you can stretch it to great lengths especially when it heats up a bit. Now, notice how it doesn’t retract like a rubber band, your muscles act in the same way. Static stretching may feel like you are getting more length in your muscles, but what you’re actually doing is putting them to sleep so to speak. They are less responsive, relaxed and weaker. Also similar to silly putty, muscles have a reactionary response when stretched too far too fast. When this happens to the putty, it breaks and when it happens to your muscles, they may tear, strain or cramp.
“A well-designed warm-up starts by increasing body heat and blood flow. Warm muscles and dilated blood vessels pull oxygen from the bloodstream more efficiently and use stored muscle fuel more effectively. They also withstand loads better. “
So while warming up is beneficial before your work day or athletic event/practice, static stretching is not. What compliments warming up best at any time is dynamic stretching. Dynamic stretching using the whole body is what I call Ninja Mobility. Dynamic stretching and Ninja Mobility are most effective when they are geared specifically for the task ahead. Of course there are a myriad of dynamic stretches you can perform and doing them all would take the whole day. So unless you are a professional athlete getting paid for time stretching, check out my favorite dynamic routine below to do throughout your day and not just at the start of it. If you are interested in the shorter stand up version, post your email in the comments or find mine on the contact page and I’d be happy to send it to you.