In the past, stretches have typically been a part of any warm up – whether getting ready for a run or a game of football. However, now there are a plethora of studies showing that static stretching impairs performance. Could all that good warming up and stretching you have been doing before the game actually be impairing muscle performance? Today I am going to delve into these studies and let you know, in easy to read terms, if stretching really does affect performance.
Static stretching has been considered an important part of a pre-game/event warm up for decades and has been ingrained in the minds of young and old as the thing to do. Static stretching involves taking a muscle to end of range (on stretch) and holding it there for 15-60 seconds and yes has been shown to be effective in improving muscle length.
So if static stretching does the job we want in improving flexibility, then how can it decrease performance?
A decent amount of research has emerged over the last 15 years showing that sustained stretching can impair performance (1, 2, 3, 4 to list a few). Static stretching of over 30 seconds has been shown to decrease, strength power, balance and reaction time, such as:
A study by Nelson et al looked at the effect of static stretching on 20m sprint times and showed that it had a significant increase in sprint times – slowing the sprinters down.
Behm et al showed that stretching for 45 seconds to the point of discomfort negatively affected both balance and reaction time.
The impairments brought on by static stretching are thought to be due to changes in the muscle compliance – it may affect the muscle’s ability to detect and respond to changes in the muscle – Basically slowing down the reflexes and responses within the muscle.
There findings are significant for many athletes – particularly those that need explosive power and only minor differences can separate you from making the podium or not. Examples of this is sprinting, weight lifting etc were, small differences and loss in power can make or break it for you.
What you should do:
Before exercise: A warm up to minimise any impairments and loss in performance should include:
Large amplitude dynamic stretching (this has NO affect on performance)
Sports specific dynamic activities/drills
5-10 minutes cool down aerobic activity (light jog)
5-10 minutes static stretching
I must mention that there are a few ways to get around this decrease in performance with static stretching. The research has shown that stretches less than 30 seconds that are low intensity have little or no effect on performance. That is pretty ideal I think as I discussed in a earlier post, you get just as good an improvement with a 30 second stretch as you do with a 60 second-plus stretch! So if you do take part in a sport that requires a high degree of static flexibility – you should use low intensity stretches (don’t push to that ow point), held for short duration 15-30 seconds.
Dynamic stretching is best before exercise as this lengthens muscles AND gets them warmed up and firing.
Static stretching after exercise to reduce muscle soreness and enhance recovery.
Hold static stretches for 15-30 seconds – and they shouldn’t hurt!
How to build muscle – As a health professional I see a lot of people who want and need to lose weight but also a lot of people who want to put on weight. More specifically they want to build more muscle. There are so many scams out there and myths about gaining weight, so I want to give you an easy to follow and simple guide, including a free recovery guide to really make the most of your training sessions.
So here is a guide full of tips, advice and training tools on how to put on muscle that are easy, realistic and developed by a professional Physiotherapist to help you reach your goal.
To safely and effectively gain muscle you need to cover a few important aspects:
Sufficient rest and recovery
If you just start drinking protein shakes or a plethora of steaks, you won’t get very far. If you start lifting weights but don’t challenge your muscles enough, you won’t get far. If you don’t give your body time to get stronger, you will fall to pieces. Below I will cover these three important aspects so that YOU can get bigger stronger and feel a lot better.
During: A huge amount of people are dehydrated before they even start exercising. This is because thirst (eg dry mouth etc) are signs that it is too late – you should not reach this point as it limits your muscles, causes cramps earlier, and reaction time slows. over the day women should drink 1.6Litres and men should consume 2 litres – Although if doing exercise, hot weather etc you should be drinking more. A general guideline is to drink 500ml 1-2 hours before training, 200ml every quarter-hour of exercise and 500mls of water or sports drink after exercise.
After workout: Protein, carbohydrates and water are needed post workout. Check out the ideal recovery schedule below for more detail. Muscle growth post workout depends a large amount on the availability of amino acids as these are the building blocks that create muscle. Amino acids are what make up protein and so without a good dietary intake – all your hard work would be for little.
A word on protein: You need to take in enough protein to support muscle growth. Your body can’t take on more than 30 grams of protein at one time so it is pointless taking more than this – it is recommended to consume 1.4 grams of protein per kg of body weight per day so you will need to spread it out through-out the day.
Sources of protein:
General nutrition: It is important to eat a healthy diet day in, day out as this gives you the energy, nutrients and all the building blocks that are needed.
Tip: Increase overall daily intake: if you want to put on more muscle and train more – you need to eat more, plain a simple.
Foods to avoid:
Sugar – Unless it is after exercise: Sugar causes a spike in insulin levels, increasing the muscles intake of sugar with amino acids to build muscle. At other times it will go straight into fat. Conclusion: avoid sugar except after workout – then you can have 40-100 grams.
Trans fat – Stay well away from Trans fat as just 5 grams of trans fats can increase your chance of heart disease by 25% among other things (generally things like canned foods, potato chips, pies, deep-fried chips and fried chicken all have over 5 grams – the easiest thing to do is check the packet nutritional info on the packet!).
Don’t be scared of fat: Other fats are needed in a healthy diet – 30% of our calorie intake should be from fat with roughly 10% saturated fat, 10% monounsaturated fat and 10% from omega 3 fats.
Sports drinks unless it is during or post workout.
Window of opportunity: The hour after exercise is when your body can take on fuel and re-load the best so it is very important to eat and drink within an hour (ideally within 1/2 and hour).
The ideal recovery guideline:
First 5 minutes – Rehydrate and refuel. eat/drink carbs and protein (4:1 carbs to protein ratio) using high GI Carbs. eg recovery sports drink, banana and water.
5-20 minutes – Cool down, light exercise for 5-10 and stretching for 5-10.
Within the first hour – Continue hydration, take in more food (High and med GI carbs and proteins – a meal, protein shake etc).
In the evening: continue to hydrate and refuel where appropriate. Apply a curfew, lights off etc to get a good sleep.
Tip: Train to failure – in order for your muscles to grow, get bigger and stronger they need to be challenged. Your body is continually adapting to the forces that are out through it so if you are pushing your muscles enough that you cannot do anymore after a set of 8-12 – they will adapt and get stronger!
Muscle recovery: Your muscles need 48-72 hours to fully recover after a workout (you have done a lot of little tears – they need time to heal and get stronger). This is why you need to have at least one rest day per week to allow the muscles to heal and adapt.
Note: If you find that you have sore muscle the day after – this is a good thing! It means your muscle have been working hard and will heal stronger. To decrease the DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) and also help your body recover faster and stronger – a warm up and cool down is essential.
Work your whole body! It is best to do a work out that incorporates your entire body and not just one muscle group such as chest or quads. Working on just chest or triceps etc is not functional at all and is only useful for bodybuilding, professional weight lifting etc as very rarely do we actually isolate and use one muscle group in real life.
How much should you push yourself? To gain muscle you will need to really push the muscles. It is also best to use free weights and body weight exercises as these engage your stabilizing muscles and are a lot more functional that weights machines.
Sets and reps: 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions.
Before activity: Dynamic stretching – this is best as it functionally lengthens the muscles while, warming them up and increasing muscle activation.
After activity: Static stretching can be done here and is great recovery.
Rest and recovery: Again, you need to have 1 rest day per week otherwise you will start falling to pieces. Make sure to get enough sleep also and decrease stress as much as possible.
it is important to remember that rest does not mean, sleep all day, play video games etc, it means take it easy – you can take a walk, a jog, a bike etc.
Conclusion on how to build muscle: You need to do resistance training that really tests your muscles, have a good nutritional intake that allows your muscles to grow and give the body a rest so that it can recover.