Instant. The fitness holy grail. We hear miracle diet, insta-slim pills and six-pack abs in six weeks—and the clincher: scientifically proven.
It’s hard to resist the promise of instant results when they’re scientifically proven. But reader, beware: Science uses specific, measurable protocols that sometimes fail to represent actual experience. Some tests would be downright ridiculous in the actual gym during an actual workout.
Flexibility is no exception. What’s important to understand is that we all want to improve flexibility. The debate turns to what is the safest, most effective way, and stretching is not the only way! We believe that warming up has benefits, particularly as preparation for a workout. And there is a growing body of research comparing the effects of dynamic and static flexibility in warm-ups. When researchers at the United States Military Academy compared the specific effects of dynamic warm-up with those of static stretching or no warm-up, they found that the dynamic group performed best across all tests. They tested 30 cadets (men and women) in a t-shuttle run, an underhand medicine ball throw for distance, and the five-step jump. These are speed, agility and power drills that challenge the stretch-shorten-reflex we described here.
Another study in the UK in 2009 compared vertical jump and muscle power in 11 men after a warm-up that was followed by static stretching, dynamic stretching, or nothing. Results indicated that dynamic stretching increased the vertical jump score and the muscular power (or EMG activity—the level of electricity in a muscle during a contraction). The increases in vertical jump and muscular power were particularly significant when compared to the scores from the group that did static stretching.
A BAD STRETCH?
It seems pretty clear that dynamic flexibility programs are definitely better before a workout—after all, it delivers instant results! It also seems clear that static stretching doesn’t help at all before a workout and can opens up forced range of motion that could create mobility without stability causing an injury. Except that a closer read of the 2009 study shows that the static stretching test was conducted by a lab staffer holding the subject in stretches for 30 seconds at a time, followed by a two-minute rest before a test jump. This type of static stretching should not be used prior to exercise, but in some studies have shown to be effective post workout.
Where does that leave us if we want to #BeLikeMike? It comes down to being your own research scientist—and this is when fitness gets exciting.
- Always been a static stretcher pre-workout? Try some of these dynamic flexibility movements and see how you feel.
• What does your warm-up look like on a heavy lifting day? Pick dynamic stretches that mimic some of your moves and see whether it makes a difference.
Science gives us information, and can give us great new ideas. It’s our job to try something different, pay attention to how it affects us and make our own discoveries.
Static stretching is great post-workout for the same reason it’s not so great before going for a max vertical jump: A long hold (30 seconds or more) will relax the muscle and nervous system. This will help maintain or improve resting muscle length, and leave you calm and relaxed on your way out of the gym.