Nearly 15 years ago, published research started appearing discussing the concept of a dynamic warm-up. For many years, athletes and recreational exercise enthusiasts performed stretches held for several seconds. Teams would often sit and count aloud in unison during these stretches. A dynamic warm-up is made up of exercises that are often quick and move various body segments in large ranges of motion.
Early research revealed traditional sit and stretch routines lead to decreased performances in speed and power. Recently, a study investigated the effects on 10K times.
Ten years ago in my graduate school studies as an Exercise Physiology major, I had a sit down talk with my advisor and we started discussing basketball and soccer players who do not start the games and matches, have limited warm-up time. Add baseball for that matter, as guys sit on the bench or stand in the outfield, and yet are then required in a split second, to begin sprinting. As I looked into the research, the common theme in all the testing was the researchers had the test subjects perform a warm-up and then immediately do the testing sequences. It is hard to think of any sport where that reality takes place. This eventually led to my master’s thesis idea.
What would happen if subjects rested upon completion of their warm-up? Would we see the same results? And if so, how long would they last? My study had 4 groups, static and dynamic tested immediately, dynamic with a 5 minute wait, and dynamic with a 15 minute wait. Results favored dynamic warm-up in the immediate and 5 minute rest groups. However, at 15 minutes, test results were no different than the static stretch group. My conclusion is somewhere between 5 and 15 minutes (following the specific warm-up we designed), the performance enhancement leveled off and returned to static levels. So does a dynamic really matter?
Think about the basketball player who does a pre-game dynamic stretch and warm-up at 5:30pm, with a 7pm game, and is not a starter. He might go in the game at 7:45pm. Was all the dynamic stretching beneficial? Compared to soccer, where players can be seen during matches doing various warm-up movements on the sidelines minutes prior to entering, basketball players have no warm-up time. Likewise for the baseball players. When it comes to runners, few perform static stretches or even dynamic stretches and immediately run. Some races, athletes are held up in call rooms or wait areas. Then they are ushered to starting line areas where they strip down to their race uniforms. Sure, you might see an athlete or two do a leg swing or toe touch, but you never see a full out stretch routine prior to racing. Have we ever? Go back years, did anyone do their seated stretches and head out to play? Not that I have witnessed. Usually they would then go do position sport specific activities for a time period until the national anthems and then would start their game/match/race.
In the research on dynamic warm-up, one of my favorite studies included a group who did a static stretch AND then followed immediately with dynamic stretch, and their results were no different than the group who did dynamic alone. (3 groups: static, static and dynamic, dynamic only). To me, this is huge! This gives insight that the static can be done without performance enhancement, as long as some dynamic movements were done.
As a coach and massage therapist, my experience shows few people possess adequate flexibility and mobility. I feel it’s an error to eliminate traditional stretching from pre-workout/race routines. One of my coaching mentors, Charlie Francis, would say athletes should do enough stretching to feel loose, not to improve flexibility. This would be followed by drills and strides. Yet Runners World, twitter feeds and running blogs promote dynamic warm-up in favor of stretching. I bite my lip for not publishing my studies in a paper, as I only presented it at ACSM national conferences as a poster.
To the weekend marathoner who can’t touch his toes and others like him, use some common sense and work to improve your muscle movement abilities. I’ve seen professional and college athletes lack these abilities as well, and that is the first thing I address with them. Any therapist will tell you that lack of movement somewhere leads to compensation somewhere else, and eventually you will get hurt from this. Even when I see athletes perform dynamic arm-up movements, there is often a lot of compensation going on, usually involving the pelvic region.
I love research, but too often the results are used to create guidelines without looking deeper and missing important details. Athletes I coach do both static and dynamic stretching. In 6 years of coaching, I’ve had one muscle pull out of hundreds of kids. Coaches and athletes need to use some common sense when it comes to trends, and dig deeper to the original sources, instead of re-using the same information everyone else is claiming.
Athletes who see me for treatment always get stretched following treatment. I hate giving things names, (as I feel the therapy world is filled with techniques) but it’s a combination of what some call a muscle energy technique combined with PNF and Microstretching. I don’t care what it’s called, but I do know that it works.