A good stretch before exercise or sport has long been touted as a way to warm up and reduce the risk of injury. Unfortunately, this could not be further from the truth. Stretching has never been proven to reduce injuries and research actually shows that stretching increases the risk of injury.
I know that this contradicts what we have been taught since childhood, but the reason is very clear. Stretched muscles become weakened and this allows abnormal and increased movement at our joints – making them more prone to wear and tear and acute injury. Freshly stretched muscles are unable to properly protect our joints. I cannot stress this point enough – stretching cold muscles, stretching prior to activity increases your risk of injury.
Furthermore, we’ve been conditioned to stretch muscles that feel tight. However, tight muscles are not necessarily short. Think about a rubber band pulled long to it’s limit. That rubber band is sure going to feel tight – but it definitely does not need to be stretched farther. This is commonly occurs in the hamstrings – they often feel tight, but are rarely short. Also, if a muscle actually is short, stretching it will not solve the problem. I know that stretching feels good and may loosen up a tight muscle. This change is almost always temporary. Within an hour that muscle will return to its preset length. The only way to solve this problem is to balance all muscle groups on both sides of the joint. Not sure how to do this? Visit your local sports chiropractor!
Instead of stretching, a better warm up is 10 minutes of light movement – a brisk walk, jumping jacks, or squats and lunges (with no weight). This gets the blood flowing to your muscles and prepares your body for vigorous work.
Dynamic stretching is also an acceptable and healthy warm up. Instead of holding and/or pulling a body part into a sustained stretch for 10-30 seconds (bad!), simply move the area you would normally want to stretch in the same direction as the stretch – using only the surrounding muscles to produce the movement (no pulling or forcing). Then repeat this action gently for 5-10 times (no sustained holding). Squats and lunges are also a form of dynamic stretching – natural movements without sustained holding times or pushing anything farther than it wants to go.
Finally, foam rolling is a great warm up as well. Foam rolling breaks up scar tissue and adhesions in the muscles and fascia that cause tightness. It also improves muscle pliability and blood flow – preparing your body for movement.