I often have people asking me what stretching they should do and when. It is not surprising that people are a little confused, because there is a lot of conflicting information out there as we learn more about muscles and how to best care for them.
Muscles are best stretched when they are warm and pliable. However if you have been relatively sedentary all day, or are working out just after getting up in the morning, it is important to introduce movement into your muscles before you put them under too much stress. What’s the best way to do this? Using dynamic movements that complement the exercise you are about to do. For example if you are about to go for a run, you can use some dynamic butt kickers, walking lunges as well as some ankle rotations, to help stimulate blood flow to the muscles in these areas and prepare for more strenuous movements.
This type of dynamic warm-up stretching will help prepare your body and prevent injury. Even though you might feel like just having a little gentle stretch before you expend all your energy on your workout, static style stretching has actually been proven to reduce your athletic performance and should be avoided prior to your workout.
Warming down your body using a combination of dynamic and static stretching can help your body adjust by slowly lowering your heart rate, preventing blood from pooling in your larger muscles and also reducing waste buildup by stimulating your lymphatic system. For example after a long run, a warm down should include slowly slowing down to a jog, then a walk before you stop altogether. Then working to stretch out the different muscles in your legs, buttocks, hips and torso will help reduce cramping as well as prevent lactic acid build up.
So there you go, we can sum this up in two simple lines:
Warm up = Dynamic stretching
Warm down = Dynamic + Static stretching