Studies have stated that, “Stretching before exercise will not prevent an injury.” I agree that if you extend a muscle past its’ limit in exercise, then you may well cause an injury, and dynamic stretching prior to exercise will not prevent that. However, I will argue that if you have a better overall range of motion (flexibility) in a variety of muscle groups, you will be less likely to hurt yourself.
Think about it for a moment: How often have you watched the French Open and seen the tennis players basically end up in the splits? You may make an audible noise because it looks agonizing, but when it is all said and done, they haven’t pulled a groin. Or if you are watching rock climbers, some may have the flexibility to put their foot on a hold at almost chest height without pulling a hamstring. This is because over time they have stretched their muscles enough through static stretching to have the elasticity and flexibility within them to elongate.
There are many types of stretching, but this article focuses on two:
Dynamic and Static Stretching
Dynamic stretching is a form of stretching that utilizes momentum and is used prior to exercise. The goal of this type of stretching is to bring blood flow to the muscles allowing them to stretch more easily. Dynamic stretching incorporates butt kicks, high knees, or a variety of other exercises that stretch your muscles whilst in movement. The goal of dynamic stretching is not to increase flexibility. Instead dynamic stretching will allow your muscles to reach the range of motion that you have built up through static stretching.
Static Stretching involves no movement other than the initial move into the stretch as the goal is to gradually lengthen a muscle to an elongated position thereby increasing flexibility. This sort of flexibility is not something that you gain quickly. It takes month and months of holding static stretches. Static not dynamic. Static stretching initially involves stretching when the muscles are at rest where you stretch to a point and then hold that stretch from 5 to 8 seconds without bouncing or moving. This enables the Golgi Tendon organs to respond so the stretch can be maximized. In all, the stretch should be held for at least 30 seconds to help increase flexibility.
Sidebar to technical for just a moment:
What is a Golgi tendon organ?
When you stretch, you are stretching muscle tissues. You have a stretch reflex which controls your muscle tension and will make it relax before the force becomes too much and an injury occurs. Within your muscles, you have muscle spindles that are very sensitive to the changes in length of muscle fibers. When you stretch, these spindles send impulses to the nervous system, and the nervous system sends a response that basically instructs the muscle to “resist” the stretch. If the stretch is held for more than a few seconds, Golgi Tendon Organs come into play. The Golgi Tendons are also specialized organs in the muscle which respond after the muscle spindles. The Golgi Tendons are also sensitive to the length of the muscle fibers and will also send an impulse to the nervous system. The nervous system sends a response allowing a relaxation of the muscle being stretched; thus overriding the impulse sent by the muscle spindle. This is why you may experience a relative relaxation to the initial tension of a stretch after the stretch is “held” for longer than 5 to 8 seconds.
If you are able to create more flexibility in the muscle tissue over time, then when you are active those muscle tissues will be able to stretch to a much greater extent.
Yoga is a great way to increase your flexibility, core strength, and help with overall breathing and relaxation. Many yoga instructors will hold poses for up to 2 minutes, and in a one hour class, you will stretch the same muscle groups over and over in different sequences. Over time your flexibility will increase immensely. Then when you play tennis or climb, even though you have just done a 5 minute dynamic warm up, you body will be able to withstand much more force in more stretched out positions without causing injury.