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15

Stretching: Before or After Walking, Running, Hiking, Fighting?

DearStretching cat K and A: Is stretching better before or after doing cardio exercise, such as a hike, walk, or run? We believe that the couple who hikes together, stays together. This morning on a lovely hike, we found ourselves debating the truth of exercise advice ONE of us learned long ago: to leave the deep stretching until after the heavy workout — as opposed to stretching before a hike or run, when muscles are cold and maybe a little cranky.  Thanks, from your fans, Gordon & Erika, Goleta, CA

Kymberly: The couple who debates together stays together … until one of them loses this bet. Yes, we’ve been around this walking block and see the dangers that lie ahead. But we persevere anyway to bring righteous truthiness and stretchiness to the active world. Once we answer, will one of you be cranky even though your muscles will no longer be?

And the winnah winnah winnah is …………….. ONE of you is correct. Ok, I’ll give. First, we assume you mean “static” or holding still when you say “deep stretching.” In that case, stretches are best held when muscles and the core body temperature are at their warmest. For static  stretching, that spells “post activity.” Your heart rate is up, you’re possibly sweating, your internal temp is toasty  – good time to ask the muscles to ex–teeeeeend. Is ONE of you hot under the collar now?

In warm-up, do the type of movements you'll be doing in your workout, but at a lower intensity… Click To Tweet

Statically Stretching Post-Exercise

Kymbelrly stretching w tree splits at Rancho la Puerta

Don’t split up over stretching disaTREEments. Do the splits instead.

Alexandra: We covered some of this (including a lovely picture) in our post When to Stretch. But the full truth and nothing but the truth is essentially whatever Fun and Fit say it is, for the simple reason that we sprinkle a light dusting of truth over nothing everything we do, so we’ll give you even more info. While doing your post-exercise stretches, please hold and argue, yell and scream politely discuss your differences of opinion for at least 15-30 seconds so that you can get improved active range of motion, rather than a quick 5-second dish-throwing tirade discourse about improved passive range of motion. Keep in mind the goals of stretching: 1) to maintain or improve range of motion (flexibility) and 2) to reduce the risk of injury and soreness.  You will reach these goals better with warm, happy muscles that have been contracting and extending throughout your aerobic workout and are now ready to solely lengthen.

Which Movements Belongs in Pre-Exercise?

Kymberly: Let’s divide and conquer – umm, this is the segment that is not couple’s advice. To prepare to move, (i.e. hike, run, walk) you need to actually move. Yes, indeedy. A warm-up needs to literally heat up the body by mimicking the workout to come. That is, in your warm-up, do the type of movements you will be doing in the workout, but at a lower intensity and graduated pace. Rehearse the joint actions and movement patterns you are about to perform.

Bob walking up beach steps

A loooong stretch … of up

For example, if you are about to take a power or dog walk, the best warm-up is walking – not jogging, side stepping, or squatting. Start at a moderate pace, ideally and initially on flat terrain. About 3-5 minutes later, pick up the pace and stride intensity. Holding still and stretching statically would be the opposite of this.

Dynamically Stretch in Warm-Up

Guess what? As you warm up, you are actually building in the necessary stretches — dynamic (moving) ones. By definition, if I am contracting my quadriceps, my hamstrings are simultaneously lengthening. As I swing my heel forward to take a step, my shin contracts. Its antagonist, or pair, the calf muscle has to extend. So you really are stretching pre-workout, but in a dynamic way that meets the warm-up goals.

Static Stretching Before Exercise Neither Reduces Soreness nor Minimizes Injury

Kymberly: The muscles are most helpful when warm, pliable, and extensible. Also, all the latest research concludes that static stretching before exercising offers no injury prevention protection. Nor does pre-activity stretching help minimize muscle soreness. ARE YOU LISTENING PEOPLE AND COACHES?!  ALERT ALERT –EXIT THE 80’s DOOR AT THE END.


Action: Stretch your horizons and knowledge about what and how to exercise by subscribing to our blog. Enter your email in any of the handy dandy boxes around and about our site.  We come to you with active aging advice twice a week, FUh -REee!


Alexandra: This post took us 15-30 hours to write in a non-passive way because that’s how long it took for us to conclude that no stupid, **&^*^%$ reputable research exists about “cranky” muscles. As a sop, though, here is a nice, compassionate saying regarding cranky, angry people.

Kymberly: So who won the bet, G or E?

Dear Readers and Crankyfoos: What is your favorite stretch after a long hike? What do you argue about during your strolls?

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Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA and Alexandra Williams, MA

4

Wassup with Warm-up?

Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA and Alexandra Williams, MA

Dear Fun and Fit: I understand that stretching and warming up before any workout is highly recommended, but for how long?  And what type of warm ups are best?

Noël, Missouri

 

The hanging stretch with perfect hair and "bits" tucked in

Does my dress match the floor/ceiling?

 

Kymberly: Oooooh, I love this excellent question because it brings back memories of an article I wrote and another I edited back in the days when warm-ups were still tepid and not yet globally warming. The simplest way to get my point across is to put it right out in the warm-o-sphere: the objective of a warm-up is to prepare the body to move and to literally heat up. Movements best achieve this; NOT holding still in a static stretch. A static, or “held” stretch is preparing the body to …. ta dum…hold still.  The best kind of warm-up ensures you are:

  • raising the core temperature
  • heating the muscles
  • increasing blood flow to the muscles about to work, and
  • elevating the heart rate

and dynamically stretching the muscles for the workload and range of motion ahead.  Major muscles come in pairs, so when you walk or lightly jog before a jogging workout, you stretch the hamstring every time the quadricep contracts, for example. Or if you perform an upper body rowing motion, your chest (pectorals) lengthen as your back (traps) shorten.

Alexandra: My brain is a major muscle and it doesn’t come in a pair. Okay, maybe “flex your brain matter” is just slang.

K: Love you sis, but the brain is not a muscle. Anyway, the best warm-up is one that contains the moves you are about to perform in your workout. We (I mean fitness pros in general, not just Alexandra and I) call this the “rehearsal” effect. If you are about to jog, then a light jog with a gradual increase in intensity is best; if you are getting ready for a boot camp class, then a lighter version of the moves from the workout will be just right. Take about 5-8 minutes to increase intensity, range of motion, and perhaps the pace.

A: Hoisting your leg up on a ballet barre is not the ideal way to warm-up: running around a bar is a good way to warm-up (especially if you tend to jog with a beverage in one hand). I’m going to quote here from a wonderfully comprehensive review on stretching by Len Kravitz, Ph.D. that I edited, “Thacker et al. (2004) concluded that pre-exercise stretching does not prevent injury among competitive or recreational athletes. They point out that studies incorporating a pre-exercise combination of resistance exercise, body conditioning and warm-up show promise for better injury prevention. Herbert and de Noronha (2009) state that stretching before and after exercise has not been shown to impart any additional protection from muscle soreness.”

 

 

baby stretch

I love those post-pool stretches; the sodden diaper not so much

 

All the way from Australia, (as opposed to “All the way from Washington”) read this article for some succinct info on warm-ups, although you should keep in mind that it was written in 2003, so the bit about static stretching should be taken with a grain of Tiger Balm, as Kravitz’s advice is more current. Here’s my question to you, Noël, Why do you have an umlaut in your name? Wait, that’s not my question. It’s: What is your goal with the warm-up? If it’s to prevent injury or muscle soreness, do the movement types Kymberly recommends above. If you are stretching for other reasons (such as to show off your shapely legs to a bunch of soccer players), we can’t help you. But we’ll be right over!

Young Americans (and old) should stretch post-workout

All the way from Washington (not Australia)

K: Well, she might be right over. I’ll be here making moves to refer you all to our post from a bit back on the best time to stretch.

Readers: What type of warm-up do you do? Are you one of those people who comes to an exercise class a bit late and misses the warm-up?

Photo credits: Creative Commons