So we’ve all heard the age-old advice about stretching before exercise. In fact, you have probably been stretching before your workouts since elementary school gym. While it’s true that some stretching can have a good effect on your body during your workout, some of the traditional stretches that you have been taught to do your entire life may be having doing the opposite. It is very important to know the difference between static and dynamic stretching so that you can start stretching to improve your performance and actually avoid injury while you work out.
We’ll start by explaining static stretching, since that is what the majority of people know, and what they practice. Static stretching involves reaching a point of tension, and holding the position for a certain amount of time. An example of static would be if you start from a standing position and bend down towards your toes and hold still in that position. Basically any stretch where you can feel your muscle being worked, and you continue to hold that position for 10, 20, or however many seconds you wish.
There have been studies done to show that not only does static stretching not reduce the chance of injury, but it can reduce your muscle strength for about an hour after the stretch was performed. (Source here) So because you are reducing strength in your muscles, and not preventing injuries, static stretching is not giving you any sort of benefit before a workout. However, the one time that static stretching may be appropriate is when you perform static stretches for an effective cool down. This leads us to dynamic stretching.
When performing a dynamic stretch, momentum is used to stretch muscles in their normal range of motion before an activity. These types of stretches have been proven to reduce the risk of injury, and increase muscle strength and range of motion over time.
There is a great list of some suggested dynamic stretches on this wikipedia page.
In conclusion, stretching is a very important activity that should be done in order to allow you to have a more effective workout. However, if you don’t stretch in the correct manner, then you could be hurting yourself, especially if you get an injury due to improper stretching technique.