Is stretching necessary?
From Gretchen Reynolds’ always excellent Phys Ed column in the NYT about whether stretching is necessary :
[Runners] with the tightest hamstrings had the best running economy. They also typically had the fastest 10-kilometer race times. Probably, the researchers concluded, tighter muscles allow “for greater elastic energy storage and use” during each stride. Inflexibility, in other words, seems to make running easier.
For years, flexibility has been widely considered a cornerstone of health and fitness. “It’s been drummed into people that they should stretch, stretch, stretch — that they have to be flexible,” says Dr. Duane Knudson, professor of biomechanics at Texas State University in San Marcos, who has extensively studied flexibility and muscle response. “But there’s not much scientific support for that.”
What changes as you stretch a muscle is primarily the message, not the physical structure of the muscle.
Reminds me a bit of an article Gretchen wrote last year, “Stretching: The Truth“:
The old presumption that holding a stretch for 20 to 30 seconds — known as static stretching — primes muscles for a workout is dead wrong. It actually weakens them. In a recent study conducted at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, athletes generated less force from their leg muscles after static stretching than they did after not stretching at all. Other studies have found that this stretching decreases muscle strength by as much as 30 percent. Also, stretching one leg’s muscles can reduce strength in the other leg as well, probably because the central nervous system rebels against the movements.
The best way to warm-up? Dynamic stretching! Gretchen says these are the best pre-workout exercises (see video at the beginning of this post):
The Best Dynamic Stretches
These exercises- as taught by the United States Tennis Association’s player-development program – are good for many athletes, even golfers. Do them immediately after your aerobic warm-up and as soon as possible before your workout.
(for the hamstrings and gluteus muscles)
Kick one leg straight out in front of you, with your toes flexed toward the sky. Reach your opposite arm to the upturned toes. Drop the leg and repeat with the opposite limbs. Continue the sequence for at least six or seven repetitions.
(for the lower back, hip flexors and gluteus muscles)
Lie on your stomach, with your arms outstretched and your feet flexed so that only your toes are touching the ground. Kick your right foot toward your left arm, then kick your leftfoot toward your right arm. Since this is an advanced exercise, begin slowly, and repeat up to 12 times.
(for the shoulders, core muscles, and hamstrings)
Stand straight, with your legs together. Bend over until both hands are flat on the ground. “Walk” with your hands forward until your back is almost extended. Keeping your legs straight, inch your feet toward your hands, then walk your hands forward again. Repeat five or six times.
UPDATE: Exuberant Animal Short Form is a fantastic series of dynamic movements to start and end every day.