Time Your Stretching for Maximum Benefit
Should you stretch a cold muscle? Doesn’t that put you at risk of a tear?
How about stretching a warm muscle? Will that give you long-term improvements in flexibility?
Have you ever know anyone who actually tore their muscle doing proper static stretching whether they were warm or cold? Maybe some of you have, but in 20-years as a trainer, including five working in a sport medicine clinic, I have never seen it happen.
I have never seen a true muscle strain due to proper static stretching, whether warm or cold.
To be honest, I have not seen any peer-reviewed scientific articles (not someone’s blog or Sports Illustrated) showing that one works better than the other. In my practice, we do our static stretching relatively cold. We do it right after our foam rolling.
We do it that way because there is some thinking that stretching a relatively “cold” muscle (even a cold muscle is pretty warm) will have more influence on the “plastic” elements of the muscle.
What do I mean by “plastic” elements?
Without getting into a review of physiology, we have different types of soft tissue/connective tissue in our bodies; like different types of scaffolding. In the muscle, some of those structures are more elastic, which means they can stretch to a great degree, but return to their resting length. But we also have some plastic tissue, which hold their deformation to a greater extent when they are stretched.
Think of the difference between stretching an elastic band versus stretching a plastic garbage bag.
So the thinking is when a muscle is “warm” the elastic components come on to a greater play so the changes may be more transient compared to putting a lengthening stimulus on the more plastic elements.
Minimal Risk, Maximal Returns
Because I have not seen any hard research to support one over the other and the idea of plastic deformation makes sense (that does not mean it is right – lots of things that make sense are not correct) and because there is minimal risk of injury, this is how we do it at Revolution Conditioning. Until I discover different, this is how we will continue to do it.
Our order of operations is:
- Myofascial release (foam rolling)
- Static Stretch
- Dynamic Warm Up
Isn’t Static Stretching Bad?
For those of you who are saying to yourself, “Wow, she doesn’t even know that static stretching is bad for you – I heard that somewhere,” you can relax. That trend is already turned around in the strength and conditioning field; give it four to five years and it will come back around to the fitness world again. The truth is there is a very small decrease in peak force and peak power production following static stretching.
Guess what though? If the static stretching is followed by a dynamic warm up, that effect is negated.
Add to that the fact that you are preparing for your workout or a game, and not an Olympic Lifting competition. You are not executing one repetition maximum movements on the ice requiring peak force/power application.
So now you know how to time your stretching for maximum benefit in the gym and on the ice.
Hockey strength and conditioning coach Maria Mountain, MSc specializes in off-ice training for hockey goalies. As the founder of www.GoalieTrainingPro.com and the owner of Revolution Sport Conditioning in London, Ontario, Maria has trained Olympic Gold medalists, a Stanley Cup Champ and athletes from MLB, NHL, AHL, CHL, CIS and more.
You can get her FREE 14-Day Flexibility program for goalies HERE!