The Danger of Stretching Before Training

Typical workout routine: Your 5 minute run around the room or skipping followed by some static stretching followed immediately by drills (sport training) or your strength and conditioning routine.  End off with a cool down if you even do one and hopefully some stretching at the end. Sound familiar?

All too often after a 5-10 min warm-up a lot of us do static stretching at the start of our training sessions (held stretches for 10-15 seconds or even longer in some cases).  Once we finish the stretching, we start to do big dynamic movements usually at a moderate to high velocity and repeat this over and over again (high volume).

In the case of sport this is all too true since repetition of certain drills, plays, and techniques leads to a neuromuscular adaptation where these movements become second nature.

But are we doing ourselves more harm than good when it comes to stretching BEFORE our main training component?

When you are doing static stretching what you are really doing is causing little micro tears in the muscles that you are lengthening. With this micro trauma you are then told either by your sport coach, trainer or you tell yourself to go and perform exercises such as plyometrics, olympic lifting, specific sport technique or tactics drills while your muscles are actually weaker and now more prone to injury. Put simply, static stretching prior to your training session will decrease performance and increase chance for injury.

What we ALL should be doing is performing dynamic stretching that simulates the sport specific movements you are about to do in your training session before you actually get to it and start drilling repetition after repetition of specific skills. For example, when I lead a sparring session at my karate dojo, training session for the Provincial Karate Team, teach seminars, etc. I will get the athletes to do their 5-10min circulatory warm-up followed by dynamic stretching. In the case of karate (and many other sports)  I get the athletes to perform leg swings both in the sagittal plane and transverse plane, arm swings in the same respective planes of motion as well as high knees, kickbacks, walking lunges, and light squats.

It is important that you get your athletes to actually warm up prior to this so blood has properly circulated throughout the body so you can reach all the appropriate ranges of motion freely. Just 10-15 repetitions per dynamic stretch will suffice so long as you cover the major parts of the body. After this, I give the athletes another 5minutes on their own to finish any other warm up exercises they need to do, particularly those who are training twice a day, have injuries, etc.

Now that you have the first part covered, let’ get to the part that everyone loves to ignore and forget. THE COOLDOWN!

It is amazing that we can train sometimes for over 2 hours and give it our all, sometimes begging for more, yet we often don’t have 10 minutes to spare at the end of our trainings to do a proper cool down and stretching routine.This is where you SHOULD be doing static stretching because…

(1) Your muscles are somewhat tight from the intense training session you just put your body through
(2) To  flush out some of the accumulated lactic acid that you may have gotten from all those repetitions of drills.

This means spending 10minutes doing a light jog around the room, followed by some dynamic movement that you may have done in the first part of your session. The key here is to try to slowly get the heart rate down to an appropriate level (less than 100bpm). Once you have “cooled down”  do static stretching for the entire body. This could even mean up to 30sec-1min of stretching per muscle group TWICE, depending on the intensity and volume of work during your training session.

Try not to rush through this part of training, because IT IS part of your training!

I see all too often people leave after the last drill saying they have to get up early in the morning for work, have homework, have a date, etc. ENOUGH EXCUSES! Make time, not excuses! Not to mention just leaving right after your last drill completely kills the mood of the session when you start out with say 10 people, and finish the session with 4 or 5.  It is often these people who come to the next session complaining of having a case of DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness)  or that they are really tight in some areas of the body.

It is ultimately up to you not anybody else to invest in a level of commitment that will produce the best results. Others can’t make you better at this or that, they can only show you  a certain path. It really is up to you to do the work  with a proper warm up and cool down, even if we think it is something minor. At the top level every detail counts, and injury prevention is just as much a part of training as the skill building itself.

Next time you are in the gym or at practice, dynamic stretch in the beginning and static stretch at the end.

Author:  Chris de Sousa Costa, 9 time Canadian Karate Champion, 2 time Junior Pan-American Champion, 3 time North American Champion,  Karate Canada Team Member, Karate Canada Athlete Representative plus many more.

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