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Stretching for Warm Ups and Cool Downs

In this blog I look at the current thinking on the best type of stretches for warm ups and cool downs. This follows on from my last blog “Is stretching a good idea for Achilles tendinopathy / tendinitis?”.



In this article?

  • What different types of stretches are there?

  • When to use the different types of stretches in warm ups and cool downs.

  • What should I do if my muscles feel tight?


What different types of stretches are there?


There are two main types of stretches: static and dynamic.


Static stretches are where a position is held whilst stretching a muscle for a period of time.


Dynamic stretches are movements which you take your body / joints / muscles through. These are similar movements to the sport or activity you are about to do and performed in a controlled manner but without holding a position still.



When to use the different types of stretches in warm ups


Evidence for stretches for warming up is a mixed bag. Static stretches e.g. ones that you hold are better at improving your range of movement than dynamic stretches (ones with movement), although they both do work. This improved movement is short lived, but perfect for a warm up before a sport. The optimal time to hold the stretch is between 30-40 seconds. This does not affect your performance and allows for the increase in movement. More than 45 seconds has been shown to decrease performance. If your sport does not need a large amount of movement (for example running versus ballet), you may find that doing dynamic movements only are appropriate.


Following static stretches with dynamic stretches that are suitable for the sport you are warming up for is important. For example, when running, the dynamic warm up needs to include the joints you will be using e.g. hips, knees, ankles and toes. It could include things like hip swinging, kicking bottom with heels when lightly jogging on the spot or backwards stepping lunges.



Dynamic movements have been shown to improve muscle force and power, which can help with more propulsive type activities e.g. sprinting. However, it is important to not overdo this and tire yourself out before running as this may decrease performance. The links between this and injury prevention is limited but suggests that the increased mobility, lubrication of joints and increased blood supply to muscles from dynamic warm ups can lead to better preparation for activity,


When to use the different types of stretches in cool downs


When cooling down, static stretches are a good choice to restore your flexibility and movement of the muscles you have used. Neither static or dynamic stretching has been shown to decrease the soreness you feel in muscles after an activity.


What should I do if my muscles feel tight?


Some runners typically report tightness in their hamstrings, hip flexors, calves and quads. The important thing is to identify why these structures are tight. Is it due to a lack of control, strength, injury or fatigue? Most of these answers come back to how robust this chain of muscles (see pic below) are to withstand the job that is being asked of them. The solution is often to increase the control and strength rather than stretching.



If you are suffering from an injury or your muscles feel tight, it is worth gaining advice and/or an assessment to establish why this might be the case. There is little evidence to show stretching for stretching's sake reduces injury risk and it also doesn’t increase the length of your muscle for a long period of time. Addressing why it is tight will help in the longer term and seeking a professionals advice on this is important.


If you have an Achilles tendinopathy/ tendinitis please read my previous blog before you embark on any calf or Achilles stretching regime as this may not be useful and could flare symptoms in the first instance.


Let me know if you have any questions. Need help with an Achilles injury? You can consult us online via video call for an assessment of your injury and a tailored treatment plan.

Best wishes

Ali


About the Author:

Alison Gould is a chartered physiotherapist and holds an MSc in Sports and Exercise Medicine. You can follow her on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.






References

  1. Behm DG, Blazevich AJ, Kay AD, McHugh M. 2016a. Acute effects of muscle stretching on physical performance, range of motion, and injury incidence in healthy active individuals: a systematic review. Appl. Physiol. Nutr. Metab. 41(1): 1-11

  2. Herbert RD, de Noronha M, Kamper SJ. Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011, Issue 7. Art. No.: CD004577. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD004577.pub3.

  3. Opplert J and Babault N. Acute effects of dynamic stretching on muscle flexibility and performance: An analysis of the current literature. Sports Med 48: 299–325, 2018.

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