Warm-up stretching: a bad idea held by many for a long time is still a bad idea.
Warm-up stretching before exercise: is it really a good idea? Does it really do anything for us?
The quick answer is NO. I am going to make a case for NOT doing any warm-up stretching because there is a better way.
No doubt there is a lot of controversy on this subject. WHY? The medical literature, my literature, is confused and conflicted at best. Then look into major running or fitness publications/blogs or various fitness gurus and you’ll most often read more about doubt and dissension when it comes to warm up stretching. This debate is based on the medical literature, hearsay and urban myth, not to mention inaccurate use of the terminology. No one has a convincing argument for or against, or the best method to stretch.
When we see many very different ways to accomplish the same thing it usually means none are right and the search continues as a result. What if the search for the best warm up stretching method is headed in the wrong direction altogether?
Warm-up stretching is an oxymoron and is a waste of time in my opinion.
Let’s define exactly what is meant by warm-up stretching. Warm-up is just that, warming up the muscles and connective tissues to get ready for what lies ahead. Stretching is well…stretching, to get the muscle tendon unit longer to help prevent injuries. That is it, nothing more, nothing less. That is why it is called stretching. It is not to warm-up muscles and increase blood flow to them. There are a lot better ways to get the blood flowing, but stretching is not one of them. These are two completely different things. This is why using these two terms together is confusing and is an oxymoron.
Stretching, in general, is no doubt good and healthy for us in many ways, but there is a world of difference between daily static stretching and so called warm-up stretching right before we exercise.
First, let’s get the “static stretching reduces ballistic strength” issue out of the way. This statement is true. The effect of reducing explosive muscle power by 4-8% occurs for about 45-60 minutes and then the loss of power returns to normal. This negative effect has been spun, warped and extrapolated into static muscle stretching is bad all around. So, I agree, static “warm-up” stretching is not a good idea.
Then comes my favorite: dynamic, warm-up stretching. This form of stretching is really no stretching at all, it is just getting blood flowing to chronically tight muscles. However, it provides little, if any, actual stretch.
So please do not use dynamic and stretching together. Another oxymoron. It is actually a lame attempt to do some some form of warm-up stretching that won’t reduce ballistic strength because we must get in our warm-up stretch because that’s what we have always done, right?
Dynamic stretching for a few seconds or minutes prior to exercise will slightly elongate a muscle, however if that muscle is chronically and pathologically too short to begin with, it will remain too short, even as you exercise.
SO, if the goal is to play or practice with muscle-tendon units (gastrocnemius for future discussion) that are more normal in ultimate length, who said this had to be accomplished just before we exercise? What if this long-held tenet is completely wrong?
When we stretch regularly, our muscles will ultimately achieve optimal length where they belong, and we can be ready to go, at anytime. No warm up stretching needed.
We need to officially stop using warm-up and stretching together.
Daily static stretching takes time, sometimes months, to take a chronically tight muscle and restore it back to its normal length. That’s why—again, contrary to what some will try to argue—regular, static stretching, outside of exercise, is effective at preventing injuries.
But what if you exercise or do an activity that seemingly utilizes the calf muscle? Do you still need to stretch outside of exercise then?
The answer is yes! This is the second, and somewhat related misconception. Exercise (such as tennis, running or swimming, among other sports) does not stretch your calves, unless the exercise is specifically directed at stretching the calf, maybe like yoga. However even that yoga, as much as I love it, is deficient in stretching the three most important muscles: the hip flexors, the hamstrings, and the gastrocnemius. (Find out more by reading the paper, “The Gastrocnemius: A New Paradigm for the Human Foot and Ankle.”)
In fact, more often than not, the most fit athletes have some of the tightest calves around. That’s why so many runners, elliptical users, Stairmaster users, CrossFitters, gymnasts and more have plantar fasciitis: of course they are utilizing their calf muscles when they train, but their calves are still too tight!
The reality is that when repetitive motions are used, calf tightening can be more likely to occur, and only consistent, static stretching can undo or prevent this from happening. This isn’t to say there is anything wrong with warming up…
Warming up is good! It’s just “warming up and stretching” is an oxymoron.
I am here to set the record straight: static stretching, apart from exercise, is what helps you have a healthy foot and ankle. It is the most important thing for you to prepare for battle.