Stretching before exercise actually increases the risk of injury…

This headline is not an error. If not done properly, stretching can actually increase the risk of injury. Virtually everyone can recall your physical education teacher having the class stretch before an activity. It has been ingrained into our memory that stretching before beginning an activity is a good thing. Can it be possible that we have been misled all these years? The answer is yes!

We have thought that stretching before exercise allowed the muscles to loosen up, stretch out, and prepare for a vigorous workout. Intuitively, it would make sense that stretching wakes up the muscles. According to numerous studies, the type of stretching that the average person does, called static stretching, is bad for your muscles unless they are already warmed up. A 1999 study (Johnasson etc al.) found that before exercising static stretching “has no preventive effect on the muscular soreness, tenderness and force loss that follows heavy eccentric exercise.” Another study determined that static stretching in itself causes injuries. The runner’s stretch, where the athlete does a push up and inverts the head so that the feet touch the ground, is an example of a static exercise which is actually harmful.

Warm Up Exercise
A warm up exercise is recommended prior to stretching. Warming up has many benefits including increased muscle temperature. Warming up can be done with simple calisthenics. The rise in muscle temperature helps to enhance the mechanical efficiency of moving muscles. A 15-minute warm up, consisting of range of motion exercises that involve rotating the hips, bending the knees, ankles and shoulders, is recommended. The increased metabolic rate during a warm up increases the efficiency of substrates that provide energy for physical activity. It should be noted that a warm up should not be done more than 45 minutes before the activity is scheduled to begin. The reason for this is that the body temperature returns to normal within this timeframe.

Most patients who are undergoing any type of rehabilitation perform a warm up exercise prior to therapy. A warm up is effective in minimizing the risk of injury to the muscles, tendons, joints, and ligaments. For rehabilitation patients, the duration and intensity of the warm up should be designed for each patient’s needs and limitations.

Is there any safe type of stretching?
If you absolutely need to stretch after your warm up, then try dynamic stretching. Dynamic stretching is stretching with a constant movement and motion. For example, lifting your leg in the air, and touching your toes as you lift. Dynamic stretching does not include any bouncing movements, only smooth controlled range of motion movements.

A good dynamic stretch will only work one muscle group at a time. For example, it is better to stretch one hamstring at a time, not two. By isolating the muscle, you have better focus and less resistance from other muscle groups. You also have more control of the movement and can experience a greater range of motion. Think about doing a split. It involves several muscle groups at the same time, and each provides its own resistance. In addition, you have no real control as you attempt the split.

It should be noted that breathing is important for a successful stretch. Breathing increases blood flow throughout the body and relaxes the body. Slow and controlled breaths are recommended, as well as exhaling as you stretch.  You should inhale through the nose and expand the abdomen, not the lungs. Then, exhale slowly through the mouth. Inhaling through the nose ensures the proper temperature for oxygen transfer in the lungs.  

As you can see, a warm up exercise is the safest way to begin any activity, not a stretch. Dynamic stretching can be incorporated into an exercise routine after the warm up. Remember to breathe and have slow and controlled movements. It is recommended that you speak with your doctor or chiropractor before changing or beginning an exercise routine. This will ensure that you are taking your exercise in the right direction and will reduce your chances for injury.

Chiropractors are the experts in range of motion, physiology, and the musculoskeletal system. Consulting with a chiropractor to develop an exercise program is a proactive approach to wellness, which makes more sense than seeing one after you are injured.  A chiropractor can work with you to design a personal warm up and exercise routine for your body. They will perform a thorough assessment of your body, including past injuries and illnesses. The chiropractor will design a beginning, intermediate and advanced training plan. If you are beginning an exercise plan for the first time or after an injury, the chiropractor may only feel comfortable designing a beginning plan and adjusting it once you have made progress. If you choose your own exercise plan, be sure to include a warm up to reduce injury and a cool down activity for after your exercise session as well.

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