With the weather improving, you may have noticed growing numbers of joggers and runners appearing around your local area. It’s a common sight to see them stepping out of a building, balancing on one foot as they grasp the other in a quadricep stretch while checking their smartwatch ahead of a cardio session. What you might not know is that this is poor stretching form. This is a static stretch, and it’s not a good idea to do one before a workout, explains Dubai-based fitness instructor and influencer Danny Jones.
“Static stretching before a workout is never advisable purely because the muscles aren’t warm and [this] can increase the risk of injury,” he says, adding that an active warm-up, which incorporates dynamic stretches would be more advisable.
Here, Jones breaks down everything you need to know about stretching – the types, when it’s best to do, what stretch, how much is enough and why they’re important for both improved performance and injury prevention.
Types of stretches
Broadly speaking, there are three categories of stretch. “Static stretching refers to the body being in a static position and holding stretches for a set period of time. Dynamic stretching is a more coordinated and controlled movement that takes the muscles through a set range of motion in order to promote more blood flow to that specific area. Ballistic stretching is a more uncoordinated and uncontrolled stretching technique which uses momentum or bouncing in order to increase the elastic threshold of the muscle.”
For a great pair of dynamic stretches, Jones recommends inchworms - standing with your feet, bend at the hips and then walk your hands forward into an extended plank position, before walking them back – with a hold, before samson lunges, which are similar to regular lunges but with your rear knee on the ground and fingers interlocked above your head to stretch the psoas.
When it comes to lifting, whether you’re doing high weights on low repetitions or large numbers of reps at lighter loads, Jones says this shouldn’t impact your stretching routine. “The only difference between someone weight training versus endurance, is that person will be working specific muscle groups within that workout and is more likely to only stretch the muscle groups that they have used, whereas typically an endurance athlete will incorporate a full-body stretch after a long run, bike or swim, for example, due to the large number of muscles used to perform the exercises.”
One of the most frequent mistakes Jones sees his clients make when stretching is duration. “People often rush their stretches without spending enough time in each position – this defeats the object of stretching in the first place as there is zero benefit in holding a stretch for less than ten seconds.”
Another error is bouncing, which commonly occurs during ballistic stretching – this can increase the risk of injury, especially if your muscles aren’t warm. “It takes the muscle through a greater range of motion than it is used to, creating a bigger demand on the surrounding soft tissues, which can cause tearing," explains Jones.
How much is enough?
For Jones, a good dynamic warm-up should result in a higher body temperature and pulse. “If you feel stiff and cold before starting your workout, you need to spend longer on your warm-up.”
After you’re done training, he recommends dedicating between five and ten minutes to static stretching. “This will ensure your muscles are properly stretched and the body has cooled down.”
Get the little ones involved
Stretching isn’t just for adults and the elderly – it’s great for children too. Jones outlines a few strategies to get them into it: “Use animal names such as the downward dog or cobra post. You could also invite the child to join you to stretch, each time testing them on the stretches they can remember from the previous session.”
Post workout super seven
Danny Jones shares seven stretches for all your major muscle groups. Remember to hold each for 30 seconds.
Standing quadricep stretch
Standing on your left leg, grab your right foot with your right hand and pull the foot towards your posterior. Hold, then repeat on the other side.
Seated hamstring stretch
Sitting with one leg extended and your back straight, bend your other leg so that the sole of the foot rests against your mid-thigh. Reach towards the ankle and hold. Repeat on the other side.
Seated glute stretch
Sitting upright on a chair, place your right ankle on your left thigh, just above your knee. With hands on your shins, keeping your spine straight, gently lean forward to deepen the stretch. Hold and repeat on the other side.
Standing shoulder stretch
Stand tall with your feet together, cross your right arm across your body, hold your right elbow with your left hand and gently press it towards your left shoulder. Hold and repeat on the other side.
Standing triceps stretch
Standing upright, bring your left elbow straight up whilst bending your arm, grab your left elbow with your right hand and pull your left elbow towards your head. Hold and repeat on the other side.
Standing chest stretch
Standing upright, extend your left arm with your palm flat against the wall, hand at 90 degrees anti-clockwise, position your feet 90 degrees clockwise so that they are facing away from the wall and turn your head in the same direction. Hold and repeat on the other side.
Standing biceps stretch
Extend your left arm in front of you. With your right hand, gently pull the fingers back on your left so that the back of the hand is facing the body. Hold and repeat.