Many have believed that doing static stretching, where you execute a stretch and hold it in place for a certain duration before releasing back to normal position, before a workout helps to prevent injuries and cramps through stretch-induced blood flood that helps warm the muscle up, increases its muscle length and get it ready to work.
However, the opposite is true. Doing static stretches before your workout actually increases your chance of injury.
Here are 3 reasons why you should not do static stretches before your workout.
1. Disrupting the Engram
Engram is a stored motor pattern in our brain that allow us to be neurologically efficient in performing a mechanical movement. For example, if your phone were to drop on the floor, you immediately know how to squat down and take it without much thought. This is because through your engram, your brain have naturally stored a collection of individual muscle movement that allows you to squat and pick up your phone without needing to think about things such as flexing your knee to about 130 degrees or your hips to about 110 degrees to allow you to descend safely so on and so forth.
However, the important point here to note is that your engram stores this information based on
your normal/natural muscle length.
When you perform a static stretch, you are temporarily increasing your muscle length, disrupting your engram which results in your body having to re-adapt to the entire movement instantaneously. Sadly, your body does not adapt very well to this sudden change, especially in the early part of your training and thus other muscle groups will kick in or/and work overdrive as a form of compensation leading to improper form, posture as well as overloading of unconditioned muscles, resulting in injuries.
2. Stretch-induced Strength Loss
Static stretching leads to acute loss of strength, otherwise known as stretch-induced strength loss. Similar to the neurological effect of the engram, stretch-induced strength loss may result in other muscle group working overdrive in order to support the same intensity of a workout that was previously achievable through normal/natural muscle length, leading to injuries such as muscle strain or in worse cases, muscle tear.
3. Insufficient Blood Flow for Warm Up
As mentioned in the early part of the article, static stretching has been commonly viewed as a form of warm up to increase blood flow into the targeted muscles to “start its engine”. However, studies have shown that static stretches do not increase blood flow to target muscle to sufficiently warm it up. In fact, it causes the two previously mentioned points which will increase your chance of injury. And with regards to stretching preventing cramps, there are more reasons as to why a muscle will cramp than solely putting the blame on a less warmed up muscle. Some other possible reasons are dehydration, overuse of muscle and lack of certain minerals in the body.
What could be use instead as a form of warm up are dynamic stretching and/or mobility exercises where the key difference is that the muscles are not deliberately held for a long duration in a stretch/extended position and that these movement-based warm up have direct relation to the exercise that will be performed during your training such as doing some bodyweight squats before attempting a weighted squat.
One of the best mobility drill that one can do before your workout can be found in the link below.
ATHLEAN X - 10 Best Mobility | Flexibility Drills (Pre-Workout)
Static stretches should not be done before your workout as not only does it affect your neurological efficient motor pattern, reduces strength but also proves to be an ineffective solution for warming up. All these results in higher chances of injuries.
Dynamic stretching and/or mobility exercises should be used instead.
However with all that being said, static stretches should be introduced at the end of your workout instead as your body temperature will be higher, resulting in an increase in muscle compliance aka stretch-ability and malleability. Doing static stretches at this point of time can help to return your muscles to their original length after your workout to prevent them from shortening, leading to other form of exercise injuries or postural issues.
(More will be discussed in future article regarding dynamic stretching, mobility exercises and muscle compliance so stay tuned!)
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