Do we really need to ‘stretch’ before we lift?

How much time do you typically allow for ‘stretching’ before strength training sessions? What stretches, or type of stretching should we do? The strength and conditioning industry has many different ideas on if, when and what type of warm ups work best. Some studies point towards a 15-20 minute ‘dynamic’ warm up, while others show that in specific situations ‘no stretching’ actually worked best for 1RM and rep max testing (Barroso, Tricoli, et al 2432-2437).

I think we can all agree that we probably wont use the ‘no stretching’ style, but it was interesting to note that in strength training sessions we might not have to do a full on 20 minute warm up, and could possibly cut that down a bit to spend more time training. So what are the potential risks / rewards of going down this road?

Younger Players (11-14) in a Growth Spurt

With younger players going through phases of peak height velocity (PHV) we may have other issues to consider above and beyond how much weight they lift in a particular session. Going through a warm up that focuses on mobility, flexibility and simple movement patterns may help correct imbalances, develop coordination and improve body awareness. In our warm ups for this age group, we focus on simple mobility/flexibility with targeted stretches that last about 2-5 seconds (not long enough to relax the muscle, but long enough to promote an ‘activation’ of the muscles involved). This is done primarily so that we can discuss positioning, mobility/stability and most importantly, where these muscles are and how to stretch them if they feel tight. This also gives us a chance to interact with the player, as we ask questions like, “Is that tight? How do you feel? Are you sore today?”

We think that in this population, the best warm ups are the ones that seamlessly progress into the actual workout without the player even realizing that we have transitioned. We typically do some lunge based hip flexor, groin and hamstring stretching patterns, and then we move rhythmically or sometimes with a pause, in these patterns. We also might do some dowel rod or stick stretching with the upper body (figure 8 patterns, over and back, overhead squat, etc.), as these motions will effectively warm up the shoulder as we talk about body control, core control and positioning.

These mobility based exercises lead right into our body weight stability exercises, which lead right into our weighted exercises. So in essence we are warming up the motions (while identifying any soreness or potential tightness), then moving rhythmically through these motions, and finally adding resistance to these motions to cover the full spectrum exercise progression with the underlying them of moving with more confidence and control.

On-Field or Speed/Agility Warm Ups

This is a different animal altogether… Moving at high speeds without preparing the body to handle those speeds can put our players at risk. So we do want to go through a few more stretches, dynamic warm up, simple movements that progress from positioning to rhythm to acceleration to speed. The ultimate goal of any warm up routine is to prepare the body to handle the speeds, loads or intensities that it will encounter in the training session. If we are going to be moving fast, we have to make sure that the body is awake, aware and adequately prepared for these intensities.

  1. Barroso, Renato, Valmor Tricoli, et al. “Maximal strength, number of repetitions, and total volume are differently affected by static-, ballistic-, and pnf stretching.” Jounarl of Strength and Conditioning Research. 26.9 (2012): 2432-2437. Print.

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