The No. 1 rule for a proper warm-up and stretching routine prior to any athletic performance is to never stretch or begin any activity when your muscles are cold. Always begin with some mild aerobic activity such as walking, biking or slow jogging for 5-to-10 minutes prior to stretching.
The idea is to increase blood to the muscle tissue, which increases the muscle temperature and makes the collagen fibers more elastic. Therefore, a mild warmup prior to stretching makes the stretch routine more effective and less evasive, which helps prevent soreness and injury, increases range of motion and improves performance.
The most effective way to stretch and improve performance and decrease the likelihood of injury is utilizing Dynamic Stretching (stretching with movement). In the past many coaches, athletes and trainers implemented Static Stretching (stationary reach and hold) prior to practice and games with the belief that Static Stretching effectively prepared the muscles for competition and prevented injury. Recent studies and testing have found this to be contrary to beliefs and actually indicate that Static Stretching decreases performance and may increase the chance of injury.
As defined Dynamic Stretching consists of slow, functional, controlled sports-specific form movements to prepare your body for movement and change of direction. Dynamic Stretching involves moving all parts of your body by using momentum and active muscular effort to gradually increase reach, range of motion and speed of movement.
Because constant movement is required for this routine the core body temperature is maintained, blood flow increases to the muscles and muscle temperature is maintained or raised. Some examples of simple Dynamic stretches include walking lunges, exaggerated kicking actions, arm circles, shuffles, marching, and inch-worms. Dynamic stretching helps elongate muscles, prepares the body for movement, enhances Kinesthetic awareness, increases balance, improves mobility, coordination and range of motion, improves athletic potential and decreases the chance of injury.
Static Stretching involves reaching a point of tension and holding the stretch for 10-30 seconds with no movement. Only the static stretch receptors of the muscles are put on stretch, contrary to Dynamic stretching, which involves both the static stretch receptors and dynamic receptors. Static receptors measure magnitude; dynamic receptors measure both speed and magnitude. Dynamic movements in sports require the involvement of the dynamic receptors. Studies have shown that there is no correlation in occurrence of injury or increased flexibility for those who use static stretching to those who do nothing.
Research has also shown that after static stretching there is a 7-10% decrease in both explosive contractile strength and eccentric strength in the muscles put on stretch. Furthermore, muscular peak force and force production are also reduced. With these decreases, coordination, explosive movements and overall athletic performance suffer and there is no benefit of injury prevention.
For a sample of how to perform some of the Dynamic stretching exercises, visit our website and watch members of the Lincoln Stars perform the routine on video at http://www.ortholinc.com/sports-medicine-outreach/sports-medicine-videos or Google Dynamic stretching videos.