The Problem With Traditional Stretching
The main problem? It often works against your body's physiology rather than with it.
If you take a tight, cold muscle and expose it to prolonged "standard" stretching you could incur scar tissue and micro-tearing, which could then lead to muscle weakness, inflexibility, and injury. And many people prescribe stretching before exercise as a form of warm-up. This is wrong.
A study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research concluded that if you stretch before you lift weights, you could find yourself weaker and "off balanced" in your workouts. Not something we want when hoisting hundreds of pounds of metal.
104 Studies Agree, Standard Stretching Sucks
Researchers at the University of Zagre began combing through hundreds of earlier experiments in which volunteers stretched and then jumped, dunked, sprinted, lifted or otherwise had their muscular strength and power tested. The scientists wound up with 104 past studies that met their criteria.
The numbers, especially for competitive athletes, are sobering. According to their calculations, traditional stretching techniques reduce strength in the stretched muscles by almost 5.5%, with the impact increasing in people who hold stretches for 90 seconds or more. Explosive muscular performance also drops off significantly, by as much as 2.8%.
A similar conclusion was reached by the authors of another new study in which young, fit men performed standard squats after either first stretching or not. The volunteers could manage 8.3% less weight after traditional stretching. But even more interesting, they also reported that they felt less stable and more unbalanced after traditional stretching than when they didn't stretch at all.
The Ideal Time to Stretch
For overall health, performance, and increasing muscle mass, stretch right after your workout. At this point, the connective tissues are already being stretched from the blood volume in the muscles.
By manually stretching the muscles post workout, you get a double whammy effect and dramatically increase the muscle fibers' growth potential.
What's The Best Way To Warm Up Instead Of Stretching?
Perform a targeted dynamic warm-up (TDW). First let's look at why this method is so effective.
- TDW activates and lubricates the muscles and joints you'll actually use during your workout, while increasing overall body temperature. A standard dynamic warm-up usually involves the whole body, which is fine. However, time should be maximized and never wasted. A targeted dynamic warm-up is aimed at the muscles being used. Chest day? Then you'll be doing a chest-targeted dynamic warm-up.
- TDW prepares the mind for the battle ahead. Once you get to a certain point in your lifting career, your mind becomes the ultimate tool to break through plateaus and push in the gym.
Properly preparing the mind becomes a key component when priming the body for maximum output. A TDW ensures that you're laser focused so you can squeeze the most out of your workout as soon as it starts. As a bonus, it can also determine if you need a longer warm-up if your nervous system is a little overworked.
The Targeted Dynamic Warm-Up Formula
Step 1: Cardio for 3-5 minutes.
Break a little sweat. This helps get the blood flowing and gets your mind ready and free of distraction.
I prefer using a jump rope, but you can use any form of cardiovascular activity. The jump rope is cool because it also helps you gauge your mental energy reserves. If you're tripping over the rope, you may need a longer warm-up to get focused.
Step 2: Targeted dynamic exercise and movement pattern practice.
This is designed to lubricate the joints and prime the muscles being used in the upcoming workout. The exercise you choose will be the same one listed first in your workout for that day.
Work your way up with the weight. Near the end, do a neural charge set to prime the nervous system. Let's take the incline bench press for example. For the neural charge, go as heavy as you can based on how you're feeling that day. It's not meant to exhaust you, but rather prime the nervous system to handle the upcoming workload.
- TDW Set 1 – 50% of working weight x 12. Rest 60 seconds. ("Working weight" would be the load you plan to use during your upcoming sets.)
- TDW Set 2 – 50% of working weight x 10. Rest 60 seconds.
- TDW Set 3 – 70% of working weight x 4. Rest 60 seconds.
- TDW Neural Charge – 90%-110% of your working weight x 1. Rest 60 seconds.
- Rest 2-3 minutes and start your first working set.
Related: The Most Intelligent Way to Warm Up
Related: Stretching is Dead: A Better Method
- Funk et al., Impact of Prior Exercise on Hamstring Flexibility: A comparison of Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation and Static Stretching, Journal of Strength and Conditioning. Research Volume 17, Number 3, 2003 pp. 489-492.
- Simic, L., Sarabon, N., & Markovic, G. (2013, March). Does pre-exercise static stretching inhibit maximal muscular performance? A meta-analytical review.