Today, we will continue with our Fitness Myths topic and discuss one more common myth. This one is a sticky myth and it is related to stretching and injury prevention. For those “in the know”, it’s been debunked for well over 20 years, but there are still many people clinging to this faulty belief. Let’s dive in…
Myth: Stretching before exercise helps with injury prevention
Mountains of scientific research show that at best, stretching before exercise is ineffective, and when preceding high-intensity explosive exercise or sports, stretching actually increases the risk of injury.
The main reason for the stickiness of this myth is that people often equate stretching to warm-up.
Let me be very clear, stretching in the traditional sense (stretch and hold for a long time) does not warm up your body and prepare it for exercise. The goal of a warm-up is to properly prepare your body, brain, and tissues for the activity you want to perform, and the environment in which you will do it.
Good dynamic warm-up protocols will start very general, and end up quite specific to your activity. They should gradually prepare your body for more intensity and movement patterns over a short time frame. This can be as little as 2-3 minutes or 20+ minutes depending on what you are prepping for.
Here is a framework for progressing through a warm-up protocol. Move through the following phases and you will be ready to go in as little as a few minutes:
Simple to complex movements
Small to larger ranges of motion (ROM)
Low to high intensity of effort
Slow to higher speed/power
General to activity-specific movements
Following this plan will raise the core temperature of your muscles and body, get the joints lubricated and moving properly, but most importantly, turn on the brain/muscle connection that allows you to move more effectively and get ready for the demands of what your activity demands of your body.
Notice how none of this involves traditional stretching?
Does this mean stretching is bad?
No way! It’s great to do after your workout as part of an active cool-down protocol. Though, I prefer a more active “movement-based” stretching plan.
Engage the muscles through a full range of motion and all kinds of variations in joint angle without the long holds of traditional stretching. This type of stretching (I call it joint mobility) is also a perfect addition to your work day. Take 10-60 second micro-breaks to keep your body active, limber, engaged, and energized!
Here is one excellent everyday stretching and warm-up exercise for hip mobility:
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