Warming Up: Dynamic Stretching, Static Stretching, or no stretching?
Updated: Sep 6
In Motion with Morrison Blog
Written by Aubrey Morrison
MS Sports Medicine, CSCS, Licensed Massage Therapist #16763
Warming up before a workout or competition is one of those topics that you may hear a lot of conflicting information about, or maybe you have read tons of information about it and aren’t sure how to incorporate what is best for you personally. Should you stretch? If so, how and what should you stretch? Should you foam roll before or after a workout? What if you have a muscle imbalance and need specific mobility work, where does that fit in? This blog is going to discuss all of this and hopefully clear up some confusion!
Let’s clear one thing up first (well, a few things): stretching is not bad for you, dynamic stretching is different than static stretching but there is a time and place for them both, foam rolling is good but it does not take the place of stretching. I think the notion that “stretching isn’t good for you” came from static stretching being shown not to improve performance; in fact, it has been shown that performance was worse after static stretching than after no warm-up at all (Frantz and Ruiz, “Effects of dynamic warm-up on lower body…”, JSCR). This does NOT mean static stretching is bad for you! It just means it is not ideal to do it before an activity where performance is being measured. Static stretching relaxes and elongates muscles – great for after activity! A dynamic warm-up prepares the body for an activity. Foam rolling fits in there too, and is a form of myofascial release to get rid of any restriction caused by tension, fascial adhesions, or scar tissue that might impede movement patterns.
A dynamic warm-up (dynamic stretching, whatever you want to call it) involves preparing the muscles for power, force, endurance, and preventing injury. It involves movement with muscle elongation, bringing bloodflow to the muscles and joints you are about to use, and getting the nervous system prepared for activity. So think things like high knee marches, spiderman lunges, inchworms, lateral shuffles, skips… maybe those names sound foreign to you, but they are full body movements that mobilize joints and prepare key muscles. This is most ideal before an activity, and best when it involves movements that mimic whatever you are about to do. For example, if you are about to run a race, you would want to do things like high knees, butt kickers, straight leg kicks, strides, etc. to prepare your muscles for the high impact movement and metabolic demands of running. If you are about to perform a power lift, you would want to do some mobilization work at the joints involved, activate stabilizing muscles, and do some of theactual lift starting light and increasing weight. These are just examples, and there are countless ways to create an effective dynamic warm-up!
Static stretching is great for cooling down after the activity because it has a relaxing effect, and the stretch is held for a bit of time so it is extra long. Again, not great for when you are going for optimal performance. Especially with activity requiring plyometrics and quick movements, there sometimes needs to be some degree of muscular tightness to assure elasticity for speed and agility. Afterwards though, static stretching is excellent! It increases overall flexibility in the longer term, helps circulation (good for recovery), helps prevent injury, and helps reduce mobility imbalances. According to the Mayo Clinic, stretches should be held for 30 seconds at least, and when it is a problem area to hold for 60 seconds.
Foam rollers are great tools, and the sustained pressure when foam rolling reduces myofascial restriction that can impede movement. They also help release tight muscles when used correctly. You can foam roll before or after, and it is good to focus on areas around joints you are about to use/just used. For example, if you are about to do squats, it would be good to release quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and calves with a foam roller before doing your dynamic warm-up.
How to stretch and foam roll is not common knowledge, and in order for any of it to be effective and truly prevent injury and improve performance, it is important to make sure you are doing it correctly. Even if you aren’t about to do an activity, proper stretching and self release techniques can be done to correct imbalances! You can remove the guesswork if you aren’t sure what to do, and come in for a Functional Massage. You will get a massage treatment for the relevant areas, followed by an exercise prescription of everything you need for whatever you are trying to do. For example, a warm-up and cooldown for shoulders before lifting so they don’t feel so stiff; where to foam roll and stretch so your back doesn’t hurt during running; or how to stop that pain between your shoulder blades after you have been driving for a long time. Dynamic and static stretching and foam rolling are essential for athletes but aren’t ONLY for athletes!