To stretch or not to bother? That is the question athletes and weekend warriors ponder, as advice varies on the importance of stretching before a workout.
It’s important to distinguish between stretching and warming up, says Lynn Millar, a professor of physical therapy at Winston-Salem State University. A warm-up “is something designed to get the blood flowing and muscles ready for activity. Stretching can certainly be part of that,” she says. “I don’t know any coach who would say stretching alone is adequate preparation before activity.”
The type of exercise can help determine how important it is to stretch. “For example, one of the more common injuries sprinters suffer from is a pulled hamstring. That activity is very dynamic so I’d suggest a dynamic warm-up, like jogging with high knees,” says Dr. Millar. “A distance runner rarely has a pulled hamstring. … When you go out for a long jog you don’t stretch, but you start out slowly and gradually increase the pace.”
Edward Laskowski, co-director of the Mayo Clinic’s Sports Medicine Center in Rochester, Minn., says you’ll see track-and-field athletes at this summer’s Olympics performing dynamic stretches. “You often see hurdlers slowly going over a few hurdles and kicking their legs up at the hurdle to get their muscles warmed up,” he says.
Age and genetics also are a factor in stretching. “Some of us are just naturally more flexible,” he says. “As we age, we start to feel more stiff and it does help to spend a bit more time easing into a jog or warming up the muscles before a game of soccer.”
Instead of stretching, Dr. Millar suggests getting the heart rate up before exercising by starting out at a slower pace. Swim a few laps at a slower pace to get into the rhythm and warm up the body before swimming at full pace or bike at a very comfortable pace to gradually get the heart rate up and muscles warmed up before breaking into a sprint uphill on a bike.
—Jen Murphy – Wall Street Journal, June 26, 2012
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