To stretch or not to stretch? Different experts have different explanations as to the purpose of stretching and whether it should be incorporated into a pre-workout, pre-practice or pre-game routine.
As a child, I never stretched, which probably was poor decision-making on my part, as I grew quite inflexible. However, shortly after I started stretching, as a sophomore rower in college, I suffered my first muscle pull.
During college, when I started to coach, I equated stretching with wasted time. I worked a camp every summer and the counselors would compete to see who could delay the start of the camp by leading the longest stretching routines. When I worked with a junior college women’s team, stretching involved the mouth more than the muscles.
Before beginning a workout or practice, one must loosen the muscles and prepare the muscles for the more intense movements. However, a static stretch is not the best means to accomplish this.
Instead of using a static stretch, the traditional reach and hold stretch, an athlete should use a dynamic warm-up to activate and prime the muscles for the workout. A recent study concluded: “Because convincing scientific evidence supporting the injury-reducing and performance enhancing potential of static stretching is presently lacking, it may be desirable for children to perform dynamic exercise during the warm up period and static during the cool down period,” (Faigenbaum, et al.).
The study measured young athletes’ vertical jump, long jump and shuttle scores after a static warm-up and a dynamic warm-up. “The data revealed that vertical jump and the shuttle run performance declined significantly following static stretching as compared to the dynamic warm-up and DYJ [dynamic warm-up plus 3 drop jumps from fifteen centimeters]. In addition the long jump performance was significantly reduced following the SS as compared to DYJ,” (IBID).
Since the purpose of a warm-up is to prepare for the practice/workout/competition, it makes sense to activate the muscles using similar actions as those the athlete uses during the workout. Static stretching does not work a muscle through an entire range of motion, like a dynamic warm-up, making the dynamic warm-up more effective.
An example of an appropriate warm-up for basketball practice or game follows:
Quarter-speed jog/Back pedal return
Toe walk/Heel Walk
Skip forward/Skip Backward
Lunge Forward/Lunge Backward
Half-speed jog/Back pedal return
Crossover Step (half-carioca: trailing foot always comes in front, never behind)
Front Step-over/Reverse Step-over
Three-quarter sprint/Back pedal return
High knees/Butt Kicks
Frankenstein Walk (hand straight in front/kick leg to meet hands)
Straight Leg Bound
Full-speed sprint/Back pedal return