Pre vs. Post Exercise Stretching: They differ!
Did you know that the TYPE of stretching you do directly affects your ability to use your muscles? There is a great way to remember what type of stretching you should be doing, if it is ACTIVE, it is for before an activity. If it is passive (a slow elongated stretch), it is intended for use after your activity.
Warnings for those stiff and non-limber clients:
First, no body part likes to be stretched without a little warm-up. A 'Surprise!! I'm stretching" activity often results in a muscle or region feeling like it is at risk of being injured. I've learned this as your provider, showing stretches in the office on a body that isn't prepared often leaves me personally with a stiff reminder the next day, even if I am active!! So, final point- NEVER sneak up on you body this way. it has protective instincts that will create the opposite effect of your end goal. Instead, gently warm it up, to let it know that you are going to be using it, and then once warm (10-15 minutes of walking, jogging, rowing, etc) you can begin the following stretching routine. And that's just it, the more of a *routine* it is, the less likely your body is to see it as something out of its norm.
If you mix it up, every day, you get even more bonus points because your varied routine is something your body expects (and is even less likely to get injured from). Beware, those of you who only work and never do any exercise or stretching, this is very risky for those stiff bodies who sit all day with the work-related-rigamortis type issues. Get it moving, break into this slowly, and once you body loves it, get into it over weeks and months.
Ok, let's get going!!
Pre-Activity Stretching is the type that you often see professional athletes using (and not weekend warriors, as we often do not understand the techniques). Unlike recovery stretching, which can slow muscle reactions and decreases speed and fast twitch fiber recruitment, pre-activity stretching takes less time but includes more risk if done to aggressively.
Pre-Activity Stretching includes techniques that includes:
- Repetitious vibrational, bouncy and/or rhythmic stretching
- Light stretching becoming more deep as the body relaxes
- Short in duration
- Includes loading and unloading the region
- Non-end-range stretching in which you don't bring the muscle to 15% of true end tension
- An example would be bouncing into the stretch, such as 10 bounces and done
For those of you who have chosen long holds on your stretches, you might benefit from this more active stretching as it prepares the muscle for sudden changes in length and stimulates the part of the brain that controls the muscular region, allowing more of it to be used with a more normal tone (read into this, less guarding and protective spasms).
For Active Stretching, Follow these Steps:
Pick your muscle group needing stretching.
Decide what stretch best affects this area and put your body into a position that stretches this region.
Pick a stretch that is light and not too deep.
Gently bounce into and out of this stretch with a very light tension onto the region. If you push to hard, you can injure yourself (especially if you aren't previously an athlete). If your body is used to this, you can get more and more into it as the weeks and months progress.
Only a few bounces will turn on the muscle (as seen on diagnostic ultrasound) giving you more gliding action, bigger recruitment with more fibers of the whole muscle gliding at once. This means more blood flow, better bigger contractions, and less chance of spasms and guarding.
Test it out and see what you think! Less is more until you get the hang of it.
PS- The same goes with foam rollering, choose to bounce on your tight stiff regions right before use, and to roll deeply and with more time spent AFTER exercise. It makes a difference! If you are just out walking or going slow, you might not notice it, but it you are making aggressive attempts at your climbing route, or if you are doing hill repeats with the Boulder Trail Runners, give this a try and let us know how it goes!