A Dynamic Routine: Stretching for Performance
Anyone who didn’t skip out on 10th grade gym class knows the routine. Sometimes you do it before exercise, other times after. I’m talking about good ol' fashion static stretching, one of the most enduring pre- and post-workout rituals. But, according to research, static stretching—marked by sitting or standing while holding postures for a specific amount of time—may not be your best bet when it comes to improving athletic performance. Recent studies point to dynamic stretching—which teaches your muscles to fire in certain ways through active range-of-motion exercises—as a better alternative that not only aids in injury prevention, but which may also improve athletic performance.
In an attempt to better understand what does and doesn’t make sense when stretching, researchers around the world have churned out a number of important studies in the last few years clarifying the issue. One of the most commonly cited is a 2008 study out of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas that compared static stretching, dynamic stretching and no stretching at all in the same athletes on different days. They found that after static stretching there was a significant decrease in lower-extremity power, meaning that athletes weren’t able to fire their muscles as effectively. Their findings led them to recommend dynamic stretching over static stretching prior to exercise. Another study, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, in 2008 took things one step further by looking at how dynamic stretching might affect athletic performance in Division I wrestlers. They incorporated a dynamic stretching warm-up into their regular workout routines and tested them before and after the study on measures such as the 300-yard shuttle run, pull-ups, sit-ups, broad jump, and a 600-meter run among other tests. In the end, they found that the month-long dynamic intervention made for longer-term or sustained power, strength, muscular endurance, anaerobic capacity and agility.
While most coaches won’t throw static stretching out the window altogether, many have come to favor more dynamic methods. While dynamic stretching helps to better train the muscles in functional movements, static stretching can over-stretch muscles, giving them less of the recoil power they need to produce force.
Check out the following dynamic stretching routine. Begin with a 10 to 20 minute jogging warm-up, followed by dynamic stretching, and then your workout. You’ll need 10 to 30 meters of real estate to do these dynamic movements. Also, if you’ve experienced positive results as a result of static stretching in the past, be sure to do that after you’re done running, rather than before.
1. Butt Kicks: Jog forward while quickly kicking your backside as each leg comes up. Alternate your legs as fast as possible and focus on the rapidity of the movement, not how quickly you’re moving forward. Continue for 20 meters.
2. High Knees: Similar to butt kicks, jog forward and instead of bringing your legs backwards, drive each knee upwards to waist height. Draw power from your core as you bring each knee up and concentrate on alternating feet quickly. Continue for 20 meters.
3. Walking Lunges: Stand up straight and take an exaggerated step forward. Deliberately lower yourself down, flexing both knees at 90-degree angles. The knee out in front of your body should be in line with the ankle so as not to go over the toes. Slowly rise up and repeat with the other leg. Continue for 10-15 meters.
4. Leg Swings: Holding on to something steady, stand on one leg and swing the other leg sideways, across the front of your body. Then swing back the other direction. Do 20-30 repetitions on each side.
5. Carioca: Stand sideways and prepare to move to your right. In one fluid movement, step your left leg in front of and across your body, then bring your right foot in front of the left foot, followed by bringing your left leg back behind your body. Continue for 20-30 meters then travel back the other way facing the same direction.