Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Right Way to Warm Up Before Exercise

When I was a kid in P.E., we were taught to bounce as we stretched. Imagine a gym full of kids bent at the waist bobbing down trying to touch our toes like a bunch of drinking birds.

This was clearly stupid. It's amazing that none of us ever snapped a hamstring like a cold rubber band. When we started to just hold our stretches for a twelve or twenty count, we were clearly doing it right. Some of our favorite stretches were:
  • Hurdle stretch (lean forward, then lie back)
  • Neck rolls (all the way around)
  • Straight-leg toe-touches
  • Torso twists
Mmmmmm... feel the stretch.

OK, so then it turned out that all of these stretches were risky, so we stopped doing them. Frankly, it's a miracle that we didn't end up in traction after all that dangerous stretching. Some of these stretches were modified (don't lean back in the hurdle, don't roll your neck back, torso twist slowly), but we eventually ended up with a good list of safe stretches.

So then it turned out that starting out by stretching was just plain dumb. Who came up with that idiocy? Clearly, the right strategy is to do some warm-up (perhaps a short jog) before stretching. Stretching is clearly important, but you have to get the muscles warm before you can stretch them well. Finally, we had this stretching thing figured out: start with a warm up, and then perform safe stretches. Just hold them--no bouncing.

Now it turns out that static stretching isn't the best way to prepare to exercise. The New York Times broke the news in Stretching: The Truth. It turns out that dynamic stretching is the way to prepare for exercise. Static stretching is now relegated to your cool down after you have finished exercising.

To summarize: static stretching used to be the first thing you were supposed to do, then it was the second, but now it is the last. My how the mighty have fallen.

In another fifteen years, Boy Kid and Girl Kid will marvel at the fact that I was so stupid that I thought dynamic stretching was a good idea.


jblocksom said...

When I started running a few years ago I read the book Chi Running and found it kind of strange that the author didn't advocate stretching before the run. He recommends a few things to loosen up your body like foot, knee and hip circles but stays away from anything stretchy until after the run. When you do start running, it's always slow, first gear as he calls it. It sounds like he's ahead of the curve.

Speaking of running, how was the 5k? I chickened out because of the cold.

reston kid said...

First of all, since I started running a couple years ago, I don't stretch before I run. I start slowly and pick up the pace a bit, but I am not consistent enough about stretching after my runs. Now I am trying to work some light plyometrics into my week in the hopes that it will make me faster and more agile. As it is, all I can do is "run" in a straight line ("run" is in quotes because I am pretty slow).

Second, I totally spaced on the race. I never put it on my calendar, so I completely forgot until about two hours after race time. Now to look for another race.