By Lauren Le Vine, REDBOOK.
As someone who took an actual stretching class last night, I was somewhat dismayed to see Gretchen Reynold's latest "Reasons Not to Stretch" Well blog post (yes, there have been multiple). How can something that feels so good and relieving have a case against it?
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Well (pun intended), it turns out Reynolds is being a tad hyperbolic in her lead. The two studies she's citing only measured the effect of static stretching - think reaching for your toes and holding it for 90 seconds - before exercises that require immediate high-intensity muscle action. Participants in one study lifted less weight - and felt "wobblier" - after performing static stretches. The second study revealed that static stretching actually reduced strength and explosive muscular performance.
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Here's the kicker, though: Most of us aren't stretching pre-workout because we need to burst from a starting block or do the best clean-and-jerk of our lives to win gold. By "reasons not to stretch," Reynolds actually means "why you might feel yourself under-performing or getting injured if you only warm up with static stretches." The studies' findings are helpful to competitive athletes, who do need to achieve peak performance level instantly, develop their warmup routines and possibly troubleshoot what might be causing a lackluster performance.
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They also provide helpful direction in terms of how the rest of us should warm up before exercising. Dr. Goran Markovic, a the study's senior author, tells The Times that it's better to warm up dynamically, incorporating the muscles you'll be using in your workout. Try jumping jacks, high kicks, and running in place with high knees (you'll sometimes hear these called "ballistic" movements) to get going.
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