A post over at my friend Joseph’s blog got me thinking about this subject, which comes up periodically on various and sundry forums, emails lists and whatnot I frequent.
He mentions that several other shotokan guys recommend working out first, then stretching, which AFAIK is correct to a point.
You want to do static stretching after a workout rather than prior to it as static stretching before working out hasn’t been shown to actually decrease injuries (Andersen, 2005; Fields et al. 2007) , static stretching prior to working out can actually decrease performance (Fowles et al., 2000; McDaniel L. et al. 2008) and in some cases can even contribute to injuries rather than prevent them (Ingraham, 2003); (somewhere there’s another study that shows similar results for baseball players but I’m having trouble tracking it down).
Does this mean that static stretching is awaste of time? No, absolutely not. Range-of-motion specific stretching for the activity you’re engaging in is great; there’s tons of literature to show that increased mobility and decreased muscle tightness have a positivie impact on performance (I’m not going to cite any further studies – if you’re looking for literature leave a comment and I’ll find some but I only included citations for the ‘static stretching pre-workout bad’ section since that’s where people usually say “Show Me!”). You simply need to include it as the last portion of your workout prior to cooldown/cessation of activity. This way you gain the benefits of increased RoM without decreased performace or risk of injury.
What you should always do prior to exercise of any sort is warm up. A good way to do this and gain some RoM/muscle looseness benefits is some form of dynamic stretching. Things like arm circles, walking lunges, trunk rotations, ball strtches or those lovely things my generation was fed as “calisthenics” like toe touches and squats. They get the blood flowing to your muscles and increase oxygenation while moving the muscle through its range of motion. Usually developing a set of sport/activity-specific ones makes the most sense.
So in a nutshell: warm up first using some form of dynamic stretching, engage in activity, do static stretching as part of your cool-down. Repeat as often as possible *g*. I recommend this site for some good basic information on flexibility training (and training in general).
Andersen, J. C.. Stretching Before and After Exercise: Effect on Muscle Soreness and Injury Risk. Journal of Athletic Training 40(2005): 218-220.
Fields et al. “Should Athletes Stretch before Exercise?” Sports Science Exchange, 2007, (20) 1.
Fowles JR, Sale DG, MacDougall JD. Reduced strength after passive stretch of the human plantar flexors. J Appl Physiol, 2000, 89:1179-1188.
Ingraham SJ. The role of flexibility in injury prevention and athletic performance: have we stretched the truth? Minn Med., 2003, May:86(5):58-61.
McDaniel L. et al. How does static stretching affect an athletes performance?, Sports Coach, 2008; www.brianmac.co.uk/articles/article027.htm