Warm ups, Cool Downs, and Stretching Basics

There’s a lot of info out there about stretching and how to warm up for performance. Stretch before? Stretch after? How? How long? Believe it or not, how you stretch can either hurt or help your performance. So before you start copying what someone else does in the gym, let’s clear confusion and go over some basics.

 

There are many types of stretching: static, dynamic, slow movements, ballistic and PNF. However, I am going to focus on static and dynamic stretches since they are most relevant to this post.

 

 

What is static stretching?

Static stretching is the most common type of stretching. This is when someone first relaxes the muscle they are stretching, then moves to a point with minimal discomfort and then holding. Specifically, any time an antagonist is moved to the athlete’s range of motion and then held for a period of time, this is considered static stretching.

BENEFITS: 

Safe; improves flexibility. Actually one of the “best” types to improve range of motion.

DRAWBACKS:

Can inhibit performance if done prior to training, competition or sport (especially for high force, velocity, power, strength).

HOW:

Perform 3-5 time for 30 seconds.

EXAMPLES:

Kneeling hip flexor stretch, pigeon pose, toe touch.

 

What is dynamic stretching?

Unlike static stretching where a position is held, as the name implies, this type of stretching involves dynamic movement. Specifically, this active stretch will be an antagonist stretched by dynamic contraction of agonist. The result is movement through the entire ROM.

BENEFITS:

Does improve flexibility, muscle extensibility and it’s beneficial for position as it can mimic action in performance.

DRAWBACKS:

None really.

EXAMPLES:

Controlled walking lunges, high knees, side to side leg swings.

 

How am I supposed to warm up?

***The following recommendations are for athletes that do not require flexibility for their sport (gymnasts, dancers) and athletes who require running, jumping, power or strength in their performance.

 

When warming up for competition, training, it is advised to start with light aerobic activity (like jogging, walking) and then some slow movements (neck rotations, arm rotations, etc.). Then you can move into larger muscle groups and include dynamic stretching.

 

Wait, why aren’t we performing static stretching in our warm up?
Static stretching can negatively affect strength and power.

 

It’s important to note that the purpose of a warm up is to literally warm up the core temperature and get you into a better starting position. It is not really the time to work on flexibility; therefore, static stretching should be avoided prior to training because it can actually get in the way with performance (read on for more info on this).

 

Lower body training days should be preceded with lower body dynamic stretching and slow movements. Upper body training days should be preceded with upper body dynamic stretching and slow movements.

 

Then, prior to heavy sets, a proper sequence of warm up sets should be used before loading into heavier working sets. Warm up sets should be tailored to YOU and YOUR needs. However, an example of a warm up before working sets is as follows:

  • Warm up 15% x 8
  • Warm up 30% x 5
  • Warm up 50% x 3
  • Warm up 75% x 1

 

 

What about a Cool Down?

Within 5-10 minutes after training, here is where I’d recommend to perform STATIC stretching. Why? Because the body is warmed and primed, basically ready for range of motion improvements. Stretching post training may also reduce soreness (DOMS) but research around this is pretty ambiguous. Although, it doesn’t hurt to do it anyway.

 

If you trained upper body that day, then static upper body stretches should be performed post training. If you trained lower body that day, then static lower body stretches should be performed post training. I would perform a static stretch three to five times and hold from 15 – 30 seconds.

Examples of cool down stretches to consider:

Upper

  • Upper trapezius static neck stretch
  • Doorway static chest stretch
  • Static thoracic extension
  • Static Latissimus Dorsi Ball Stretch
  • Static shoulder towel stretch

 

Lower

  • Kneeling static hip flexor stretch
  • Seated static piriformis stretch
  • Pigeon Pose (static)
  • Static Gastrocnemius Stretch
  • Static standing TFL stretch

 

Additional stretching sessions:

If increased flexibility is required, you may need separate, additional sessions.

Side note — These make great recovery days!

 

________________________________________

 

Happy Training Friends!!

Xo,

Nat

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