Lets Talk About Stretch, Baby...
Beau & I ventured out to a collegiate sporting event (imagine that) not too long ago. We made sure to get there with plenty of time because true to our day jobs we enjoy all things about athletics...even the warm-up (Or Beau just knows I am chronically late & he thought arriving an hour early would ensure we made it by half-time). But really, The Warm-Up - what a crucial part! What we saw and what we expected to see were two very different things. We expected to see a warm-up routine that was packed with the newest research-driven stretches, drills, movements, etc. Instead, we witnessed a slow, rehearsed, old-school, half-as...well un-motivated warm-up.
This leads to the question: What is the objective of stretching or warming up? Simply put- to minimize impairments & maximize performance. If that's the goal and the reason we spend so much "effort" in learning and performing warm-up routines, why are athletes still statically stretching? Old news, but research has proven the detrimental effects that holding a static stretch can have on tissue. A static stretch is a held position that places a long stretch on a muscle or muscle group, ie. bending over and touching your toes. So whats the research say exactly? A stretch such as the toe touch held for time leads to:
a decrease in strength
a decrease in power
a decrease in muscle activation
That certainly does not sound like minimizing impairments and maximizing performance, but the exact opposite. So why are we still stuck in the static stretch routine? I'm not sure an exact answer exists, but I do know we (and I say we because I am guilty as well) tend to sit in idle with no progression. With such a heavy focus on increasing performance, it would be careless to neglect transforming the warm-up. The warm-up should be filled with active stretches and dynamic movements - types of stretching that has been proven to increase acute muscular power, strength and power, vertical jump, eccentric control of multiple muscle groups, improved endurance, etc. All of which sound a lot like minimizing impairments and maximizing performance!
You may not be competing for a NCAA team, but perhaps your training for an Ironman, a Crossfit competition or just life in general. Adopt a dynamic stretching routine and watch your power output increase and your injury rate decrease. After all why waste your time warming-up if you're not accomplishing the goal -
Slowly these realizations are being applied, but why are our college teams still so hesitant for change? After all, they are the teams and players representing the research institutions concluding these results! Although stretching seems like a "no-brainer" it really is much more complicated than throwing your arm behind your head and feeling the strain in your triceps. In our world its actually quite controversial!
I'd love to hear your feedback about your personal warm-up routines or the routines that you have witnessed. Perhaps you can shed some light on why we are still stuck in our destructive, sloth-like warm-up.
If we are aspiring to better our athletic performances lets start using science to help us instead of old habits that hinder us.
[We had the absolute pleasure of listening to Ben Langdown and Jack Wells speak at the World Golf Fitness Summit this past October concerning the effects of a dynamic workout. The reasearch will not be published until the new year, but take a peek at some of the highlights - Warm ups add extra length off tee - Its always exciting to see progression in the realm of performance!]