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Being flexible takes more than a stretch


eading into the gym and getting ready to play some basketball, I see men and women off to the side sitting down and reaching for their toes. I assume that they are trying to stretch their hamstrings, but the only real work I see getting done is the sharing of weekly gossip. As a physical therapist in the sports medicine realm, I think to myself ‘Do people really know when to statically stretch versus when to dynamically warm-up?.’ My answer is, probably not. So, what exactly is flexibility? And, why should you stretch? Flexibility is basically a joint’s ability to move freely through a full and normal range of motion (ROM). Stretching gives you greater flexibility. Benefits of stretching include increased flexibility, improving ROM, reducing muscle tension, promoting better posture, and a boost in skill execution. It’s essential for achieving top performance and it aids in relaxation. If you don’t stretch before an activity, you may experience restricted movement, reduced performance, breakdown in body tissues and long-term injury. Some stretching essentials are: ■ Always include a warm-up ■ Target major muscle groups ■ Perform balanced stretching with correct technique ■ Avoid over-stretching ■ Focus on pain-free stretching So, what is the buzz regarding dynamic warm-ups? A dynamic warm-up is a more active,

sport-specific method of preparing the body for the demands of the sport. It helps to maintain warmth in your muscles; it primes the fast-twitch muscle fibers, increases coordination and helps with injury prevention. It’s also shown to increase activation of the central nervous system and better improve oxygen uptake and removal of carbon dioxide. But, if you just sit and think about it, sports require active movements. And what better way to prep the body for activity than a dynamic warm-up. Static stretching is ideal to do at the end of your workout or sport. It is a great way to help cool down the body, remove lactic acid, help regulate your heart rate and breathing, increase recovery rate, and to improve ROM. Research surrounding dynamic warm-ups show pre-exercise static stretching may actually reduce performance by decreasing force and power. Examples include: ■ 3% decrease in sprint performance ■ 9.6% decrease in lower extremity power in teen gymnasts ■ 5% decrease in vertical jump height Please refer to our website ( for examples of a dynamic warm-up and static stretches. ✪

Health Watch Kristen Welsh

Kristen Welsh is a physical therapist for the Sports Medicine For Young Athletes center in Walnut Creek. If you have questions or comments regarding the “Health Watch” column, write the SMFYA staff at

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August 26, 2010



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