Many of us grew up being told that we should warm up before we exercise by holding a pose to loosen us up, make us move better, and make us injury-proof. While it is true that we should definitely warm up before exercise, holding a static stretch is definitely not the way to go about it.
Back when I was in grade school—wearing my split shorts, knee-high sports socks, and participating in the mandatory track events to earn a scrap of satin in the form of a participation ribbon—stretching was a ritual that we all performed before the main event. Back then we were all programmed to believe we absolutely had to stretch our muscles before exerting them if we wanted to avoid things like the dreaded groin pull.
Times have changed. And luckily, so have gym uniforms.
These days there are many studies that caution us away from stretching before workouts. According to the research, not only does our performance suffer (less strength, less speed, and less power) but it also does not protect us against injury (even the dreaded groin pull).
Back then we were all programmed to believe that we absolutely had to stretch our muscles before exerting them if we wanted to avoid things like the dreaded groin pull.
What Is a Warmup?
A warmup is exactly what it sounds like: a routine that warms the body up—literally and figuratively. A warmup should activate the synovial fluid (lubricant) in your joints, raise your heart rate, and raise your body temperature.
There is some great info in the article What is the Best Way to Warm Up? But in a nutshell, warmups come in many forms, and all of them should involve some sort of cardiovascular movement.
Activities, like walking slowing and then gradually building into a jog, or cycling at a low intensity and building up to a moderate effort over a few minutes, are good ways to start a warmup. I like to get my athletes to start their warmup with a few sun salutations to get the blood flowing, the breath moving, and to get a feel for where they might be tight or sore on that day.
The duration of a warm-up can vary (I usually say between 5 and 15 minutes, depending on the intensity of the effort you are about to engage in), but a good rule of thumb is to make sure you break a sweat.
Only after you have broken a sweat is it a good idea to do some dynamic and full body movements (often confusingly referred to as dynamic stretching). After that you should be ready to rock your workout.
Now, what is a dynamic stretch you ask? Well, before we get into that and talk about how it differs from what we did in grade school, let's define static stretching.
What Is Static Stretching
A static stretch is a stretch that is held in a comfortable (but challenging) position for between 10 to 30 seconds and is the most common form of stretching. This type of stretching is considered safe and effective for improving overall flexibility.
But what about before exercise? Well, most of you fit folks out there have probably read or heard that sport science researchers have discovered (relatively recently) that using static stretching as a warmup can actually lower jumping heights, slow running speeds, and decrease lifting strength—without reducing the chances of getting injured. But how can that be? Was the PE teacher lying to us? Probably not. And here's why.