Aren’t Warm up / Cool Down – exercises the same?
Well, not exactly. They are similar but understanding the difference between when to do static and when to do dynamic stretches can help you target your warm up and cool down and improve your results. There are other types of stretches, but these are the most beneficial to you. Here’s an explanation:
Static stretching is the most common type of stretching – you know it as stretch and hold, 1, 2, 3, 4… You stretch your muscles, then hold in place so they become more flexible. Wikipedia says: “Static stretching is used to stretch muscles while the body is at rest. It is composed of various techniques that gradually lengthen a muscle to an elongated position (to the point of discomfort) and hold that position for 30 seconds. 30 seconds is the minimum duration to get the benefits of stretching, whereas two minutes is the maximum”
Dynamic stretching is where you stretch the muscles but do not hold the position. They are performed a bit quicker. Wikipedia says: “Dynamic stretching is a form of stretching beneficial in sports utilizing momentum from form, and the momentum from static-active stretching strength, in an effort to propel the muscle into an extended range of motion not exceeding one’s static-passive stretching ability.”
Your First Step
The first step you’ll want to try is to focus your warm up and cool down based on what you plan on doing. Going to play golf or tennis? You may want to focus on dynamic stretching for your warm up and cool down with static stretches. Knowing just a few key points can *help* you win tag football with your friends or run a little farther.
Janice Eveleigh PT reported “…study showed that the dynamic … prior to running, improved running speed in a way that was superior to static stretching ¹. However, if the goal is to increase range of motion, the dynamic method increased range less than static stretching. … ²”
So, there is room for both dynamic and static stretching in your exercise routines. Static stretching will improve and maintain mobility, dynamic to prepare for a sport and improve power.
Ok, Now What?
How do I know if my stretch is Dynamic or Static?
First of all, be safe!
In most cases, if you are new to exercise or are normally sedentary, stretching is safe – however, this does not replace medical. Be sure to consult your doctor before trying any exercises.
∗ See the exercises below to help get you started – we’ve formatted them for print so you can refer to them as you workout. Visit the exercise pages for more exercises.
Warming Up = Dynamic Stretches
For your warm up you’ll want to use slow, controlled movements through a full range of motion – dynamic stretches. For optimal performance, be sure to do your dynamic stretching before playing sports*.
*check with your coach for your best sports performance exercises.
Dynamic stretching is a combination of strength and flexibility. It is the act of taking a muscle to the end of its range and then contracting the muscle that is being stretched. This type of stretching helps you to increase flexibility, strength, muscle coordination and balance.
Dynamic stretching improves performance when done before an activity that requires a lot of power, strength or speed – so if you are about to participate in a sport, you’ll want to invest in your warm up with Dynamic stretches.
Check your starting Level
Be sure to assess your starting intensity level. Factors that contribute to this are:
- range of motion
- speed of the exercise
- force generated
- number of stretches
- total time stretched
When you first begin, you should start with short, slower movements, that don’t require a lot of force. A light aerobic activity for five to ten minutes will get blood circulating and increase your body temperature. If the intensity of stretching is increased too rapidly it increases your risk of injury, so be sure to increase intensity by no more than five to ten percent per week.
Cooling Down = Static stretches
Static stretches, however, help muscles relax, realign your muscles and re-establish the normal range of motion of the muscle. Hold your static stretch for 10 – 30 seconds.
When you think of flexibility or stretching, do you think of “stretch and hold” stretching? This is Static stretching. It’s purpose is to increase your range of motion. Flexibility is essential if you participate in sports and almost every other activity you can think of.Static exercises are as essential to your overall fitness as strength training, endurance and balance exercises.
- Static stretching improves flexibility and joint range of motion
- Helps in relaxation
- May reduce some muscle soreness
- Stretching statically can be done almost anywhere without special equipment
Examples of Stretch Exercises to get you started
Alternate Toe Touches
Alternate Toe Touches
- Start by standing with your feet spread as far apart as comfortably possible.
- Exhale as you lean forward with your right hand to reach your left foot or until a comfortable stretch is felt in your lower back and hamstring. Exhale as you bend.
- Inhale and return to a standing position.
- Exhale and Lean forward with your left hand to reach your right foot or until a comfortable stretch is felt in your lower back and hamstring. Exhale as you bend.
- Repeat 6 to 10 times with a slow rhythm. Breath out as you bend down, and in as you return to a standing position.
- This motion should be continuous alternately touching each foot (as close as possible) with the opposite hand.
- Do not hold your stretch.
- Hold your stretch for 10-30 seconds on each side.
- Stand tall with good posture, feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, hands resting on hips. Inhale.
- Lift your torso up and away from your hips and bend smoothly first to one side, then the other. Stay straight – don’t lean forwards or backwards. Exhale as you bend.
- Repeat 6 to 10 times with a slow rhythm. Breath out as you bend to the side, and in as you return to the center.
If you are going to stretch be sure to warm up your muscles first with an aerobic activity such as cycling, swimming, jogging, etc. The type of warm up activity depends on the muscle being stretched.
For instance, if you are concerned with stretching quadriceps, then a treadmill on an incline or stair machine works well to warm those muscles up. If you are concerned with hamstrings, then the cycle is more efficient as warming up the hamstrings. So base the activity on the muscles you want to target.
If you are going to be involved in strength training such as lifting weights or another activity that requires strength, do your Static stretching during your cool down.
1. T Little, AJ Williams. Effects of differential stretching protocols during warm-ups on high-speed motor capacities in professional footballers (submitted).
2. WD Bandy, JM Irion, M Briggler. The effect of static stretch and dynamic range of motion training on the flexibility of the hamstring muscles. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 1998;27:295–300.
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Try stretching with an exercise ball – this one is great because it includes everything you need to get started including the pump – tap the picture to see reviews and product details on Amazon or just browse.