It is always interesting to hear the plethora of warm-up folklore in the general fitness community. Pardon a short rant but…
This story-telling of fictional wisdom is usually perpetuated by extremely de-conditioned and closed-minded individuals who don’t know how to actually find or read the scientific research available or are too egotistical to admit it and seek out someone they trust to give them accurate information. This is the whole reason you hire an expert to begin with, otherwise why waste your money? The result is usually a client seeking out a poorly educated trainer who will tell them or have them do what they think they need to do rather than what we scientifically know they need to do. These poorly educated trainers need the money and therefore will say or do anything to retain a client. These types of individuals always have it figured out, already know how to eat and exercise but never lose any weight and rather than admit they can’t preform a difficult workout because they are de-conditioned they blame it in the coach or the routine as being flawed or ill conceived.
I actually have encountered individuals that think that their extreme soreness comes from lack of stretching, rather than the fact that they were very de-conditioned and overdid their first workout, a common mistake as most people don’t realize how much their body can take as they feel fine while they are performing the exercises. Their ego gets the best of them as they just got done bragging to the trainer about how much training they have been doing at the local Zhumba class… We often have to cut them off before they think they are ready to finish believing they can do more. It is best to be able to recover for 48 hours and return, but sometimes we get fooled by a client’s ability and eagerness to continue on. Static stretching post-workout can have some beneficial effect in removing waste products and diminishing DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) but even that is minimal in the scheme of things. You are much better off if you have excellent post-workout nutrition, restful and adequate sleep and a stress-free lifestyle. Those items have a much more profound affect with nutrition being the place that everyone fails miserably until they get a bit of education.
Traditional warm-ups as many of us have come to know them are a disaster flying in the face of all known recent scientific research. Most people set themselves up for a poor workout or injury before they begin. Let’s examine some common mistakes that people make preparing for their workout.
Static Stretching Before Your Workout vs Dynamic Stretching
Static stretching involves reaching forward to a point of tension and holding the stretch. It is professed to be done to eliminate risk of injury, but nothing could be further from the truth. This is the mother of all mistakes during your warm-up and the research gets clearer and clearer on this every year despite the efforts for the die-hards to try and find the most esoteric of reasons or purpose to pre-workout stretching. Embarrassingly enough, our industry is loaded with ignorant trainers that still follow the old dogma. Unfortunately the consumer does not know the difference and in fact if the trainer does not stretch before a workout they think that the trainer doesn’t know what they are doing and they lose confidence in their coach. As such the trainer stretches them before the workout giving them what they want in order to maintain a paying client.
In a recent study conducted at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, athletes generated less force from their leg muscles after static stretching than they did after not stretching at all. Other studies have found that this stretching decreases muscle strength by as much as 30 percent. Also, stretching a single leg muscle can reduce strength in the other leg as well, likely because the central nervous system fights against the movements.
“There is a neuromuscular inhibitory response to static stretching,” says Malachy McHugh, the director of research at the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. The straining muscle becomes less responsive and stays weakened for up to 30 minutes after stretching, which is not how an athlete wants to begin a workout.
In 2010, the American College of Sports Medicine issued new guidelines specifically advising against static stretching before workouts or competitions. The European College of Sport Sciences issued a position statement saying that such stretching could “diminish” athletic performance. It doesn’t get any more obvious and simpler than that. For the general population, static stretching is problematic. With few exceptions such as if you are involved in a sport that demands a great extent of static flexibility,” such as “holding a split position” during gymnastics or dropping into the squat of “a baseball catcher,” then “you may need to add some static stretching.
The best that can be said about static stretches is that if you keep them down to under 30 seconds pre-workout they have little detrimental effect but then again they have very little effect at all on anything, so why bother?
While static stretching is still almost universally practiced among child athletes — watch your child’s cross country or volleyball team next weekend — physiologists now agree, it doesn’t improve the muscles’ ability to perform with more power and has limited ability to prevent injury if you are practicing proper full range dynamic stretching movements.
Many of the best strength coaches support the use of dynamic stretching. Dynamic stretching consists of functional based exercises which use sport specific movements to prepare the body for movement. This is what we do. We begin slowly and warm-up into the movement increasing the range of motion with each repition.
Suffice to say if your coach has you doing static stretching run the other way. Otherwise ask him to produce relevant, recent peer reviewed academic and laboratory research on the subject and then watch when your trainer runs the other way…
If you need more academic research on this topic…
- Rod Pope an army physiotherapist in Australia, recently carried out a wide study to assess the relationship between static stretching and injury prevention. Pope monitored over 1600 recruits over the course of a year in randomized controlled trials. He found no differences in the occurrence of injury between those recruits who statically stretched and those who did not.
- “Gleim & McHugh (1997), would also challenge the premise that stretching, or indeed increased flexibility, reduces the risk of injury” www.pponline.co.uk, So what about dynamic flexibility. and Gleim & McHugh (1997), ‘Flexibility and its effects on sports injury and performance,’ Sports Medicine, 24(5), pp. 289-299.
- New research has shown that static stretching decreases eccentric strength for up to an hour after the stretch. Static stretching has been shown to decrease muscle strength by up to 9% for 60 minutes following the stretch and decrease eccentric strength by 7% followed by a specific hamstring stretch. Mick Critchell, Warm ups for soccer a Dynamic approach, page 5.
- Rosenbaum and Hennig showed that static stretching reduced peak force by 5% and the rate of force production by 8%. This study was about Achilles tendon reflex activity. Rosenbaum, D. and E. M. Hennig. 1995. The influence of stretching and warm-up exercises on Achilles tendon reflex activity. Journal of Sport Sciences vol. 13, no. 6, pp. 481–90.
- Gerard van der poel stated that static stretching caused a specific decrease in the specific coordination of explosive movements. Mick Critchell, Warm ups for soccer a Dynamic approach, page 5.
- Three 15-second stretches of the hamstrings, quadriceps, and calf muscles reduced the peak vertical velocity of a vertical jump in the majority of subjects (Knudson et al. 2000). Knudson, D., K. Bennet, R. Corn, D. Leick, and C. Smith. 2000. Acute Effects of Stretching Are Not Evident in the Kinematics of the Vertical Jump. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport vol. 71, no. 1 (Supplement), p. A-3 and Tomas Kurz, www.scienceofsports.com,
- Moscov (1993) found that there is no relationship between static flexibility and dynamic flexibility. This suggests that an increased static range of motion may not be translated into functional, sport-specific flexibility, which is largely dynamic in most sporting situations. www.pponline.co.uk, So what about dynamic flexibility.
- Static based stretching programs seem best suited following an activity. Mann, Douglas, Jones Margaret 1999: Guidelines to the implementation of a dynamic stretching routine, Strength and Conditioning Journal:Vol 21 No 6 pp53-55
Too Much Intensity or Metabolic Conditioning During The Warm-up
The main thing to accomplish during your warm-up is to raise the body temperature and prepare the central nervous system for high intesity weigthed movements. You need to introduce the intensity level and range of motion required for the workout to your body. 10-15 seconds of muscular contractions raise body temperature by 1ºC (1.4ºF) and an appropriate warm-up should raise body temperature by 1-2ºC (1.4-2.8ºF).
Rehabilitation specialist, Paul Chek, states:
“Resistance training induces specific stress to the muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints of the arms, legs and/or involved spinal structures. The loads are often high, requiring significant activation by the nervous system.
Although aerobic exercise activates the cardiovascular system and warms the body, this type of warm-up is only specific to the working joints.”
Our typical dynamic warm-up that utilizes all the large muscle groups and joints as well as moving in all 3 physical planes is as follows:
10-15 -Air Squats
10-15 – Pull-ups
10-15 – Push-ups
10-15 – Sit-ups
10-15 – Twisting Lunges
10-15 – Dips
100 – Jump Rope
Don’t worry if you think you can’t do some of those movements we have scaled each exercise for the most inexperienced or deconditioned of individual to preserve the integrity of the movements but allow you to perform them all.
It is better to do more sets at low repetitions than low sets at high reps during a warm-up. Although a warm-up is virtually always essential to a safe and optimal training session, a more lengthy or rigorous all body warm-up is necessary when attempting to perform short duration high intensity activities. In order to be able to perform a series of exercises with immediate and continuing high intensity you must get the joints, tendons and ligaments prepared quickly and properly. Blood flow, acid build-up, CO2 accumulation, heat and synovial fluid are essential to accomplishing this objective.
When performing High Intensity Short Duration (HISD) training sessions, the individual must be able to maximize performance as soon and as safe as possible due to the short time period to achieve beneficial changes in human chemistry. This can be achieved with a thorough dynamic warm-up and cannot be accomplished with a static warm-up no matter what the next “expert” tells you, scientific research is on our side here. So get on the 21st century science bandwagon as we have had 50 years to study this subject and we are finally getting it right!
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