One important component of injury-free sports is the warm-up. A warm-up is part of every practice and every competition in every sport. A proper warm-up before exercise is important in preventing injury and optimizing performance. A warm up is designed to increase blood flow, body temperature, and heart rate. It warms the muscles and prepares them for sport. A warm-up also provides athletes with a time to mentally prepare for exercise.
There is a widespread misconception among coaches and athletes that sitting in a circle and stretching for 10 minutes at the beginning of practice constitutes a warm up. While this type of stretching, known as static stretching, has a place in injury prevention and performance enhancement, research shows that static stretching is not the best way to warm up prior to exercise. A more effective warm up is called an active warm-up, which includes dynamic stretching.
Static stretching puts tension on the muscle to lengthen it, than hold that position with no movement. Examples of static stretching include hurdler stretches and standing calf stretches. There is still an important place for this static stretching, especially with injured athletes and athletes who have flexibility deficits. However, recent research has found that static stretching prior to sport compromises muscle strength and explosive power for up to an hour. This decreased strength may cause injury.
Dynamic stretching is an active movement that stretches a muscle without holding it in the end position. It begins with a slow, low intensity, moving stretch and increase to a faster, yet still controlled movement. Simply put, dynamic stretching sends signals from the brain to muscle fibers and connective tissue to prepare the body for activity. Examples of dynamic stretches include arm circles, butt kicks and skipping. Research on dynamic stretches found that completing dynamic stretching prior to sports will provide short term gains in flexibility. It will also decrease the body’s natural reflexive muscle contractions, thus potentially preventing some injuries.
Dynamic stretching provides athletes with the safest, most effective way to stretch when warming up for a practice or competition. Understanding the difference in stretches can improve not only flexibility but also performance.