I was recently coaching some of New Jersey’s elite football talent at Nike’s ‘The Opening’ this past weekend and will be coaching some of the same faces this weekend at the Rivals Speed Camp and Combine. Being afforded the opportunity to put all of these athletes through their pre-combine warm-ups has inspired me to write today’s blog in hopes to continue to educate our youth and our coaches on the impact various warm-up styles have on an athlete’s performance. I plan to shed some light on the static, dynamic, myofascial release love triangle by first defining the three different styles and then discussing how each individually and jointly can positively or negatively impact our athletes.
Static stretching is the form of stretching we have all seen or done at some point in our lives. We have all even probably counted aloud during Phys Ed class with our classmates to ensure we were holding the stretch position for 10 plus seconds. This is the type of stretching where you hold a position for anywhere from 3 to 30 seconds in hopes of lengthening the muscle. Most notable is probably the sit and reach hamstring stretch where you put all of your focus into trying to touch your toes while keeping your knees straight.
Pros – Static stretching is an excellent tool for increasing the range of motion within a muscle. Adding static stretching to your normal routine will loosen and lengthen your muscles. This allows your limbs to move through a greater range of motion.
Cons – Unless you are a dancer or a synchronized swimmer, your body does not necessarily need to move through a greater range of motion. Static stretching causes your muscles to lose their elasticity principles. Your muscles are not able to contract at rapid enough speeds and produce the power they need to in order to perform at optimal level. Think about your muscles like a rubber band. If I stretch and stretch that rubber band to make it longer, it does not have the same ‘snap back’ capability it had before you stretched it out. Ladies (and my gentlemen with man-buns), I know you can all relate to the hairbands we use becoming more and more useless with each use.
Studies have shown static stretching to negatively impact power and performance output for upwards of 24 hours after static stretching. This means for our Friday Night Lights games, we should not be static stretching after 7 p.m. Thursday night. Static stretching should only be done after you have finished practicing/playing for the day, never before a game, a practice, or a testing day.
Dynamic warm-ups are a series of sports related movements that warm-up the muscles within the range of motion that is necessary for the respective sports or activities. This means that instead of increasing the range of motion allowed within the muscle unit or stretching the rubber band as far as you can, you are doing short burst movements within the range of motion you will be utilizing for that day or doing shorter pumps with the rubber band that begin to loosen up the fibers, but do not inhibit the contraction capabilities.
Not to be confused with ballistic stretching which involves a lot of bouncing while holding a more static-styled stretch, dynamic movements involve actively moving through the range of motion with increasing intensity leading into more neuromuscular movement patterns. Exercises like high knees, a-skips, ‘Frankenstein kicks’, carioca, single leg body weight ‘cone touch’ Romanian dead lifts, side lunges, etc. are all exercises that can be performed during dynamic warm-ups.
Pros – Unlike static stretching which over stretches the muscles, dynamic warm-ups allow for the muscles to loosen enough to move freely within the necessary range of motion needed for activity. This means the muscles are loose enough to withstand various impacts and loads, but have enough contractibility to maintain power and performance levels. The bands (muscles) can still ‘snap back’ quickly, allowing your body to produce greater jump heights and sprint speeds. The take-away is the muscles are ‘stretched’ enough to perform exercises in a safe manner while not having an excessive range of motion that causes deficits and hinders performance outcomes.
Cons – There really are not many cons to this type of warm-up style being performed before performance. The only “con” is that it does not add additional range of motion to your existing ability. This can be perceived as a con for activities like dancing, gymnastics, synchronized swimming, and cheerleading where flexibility is in high demand. That does not mean that dynamic warm-ups cannot be used, it just means they should be supplemented with POST-activity static stretching.
Myofascial release comes in two forms, self-release and assisted-release. Self myofascial release is often performed by utilizing devices such as foam rollers, accusticks, lacrosse balls, etc. Assisted myofascial release is performed by a therapist who utilizes a variety of tools to help break up areas of increased tension within a muscle. These areas are often referred to as clumps, lumps, or knots of muscle fibers that have become intertwined. The intertwining can occur for a number of natural reasons, some of which include the tearing and rebuilding of the tissue following strength based movements and from the general cool-down following activity.
Myofascial release, whether self or assisted, serves to target areas where the muscle fibers have become knotted or lumpy. It helps to restore the muscles to their original and optimal resting state. This will then allow the dynamic warm-up to function without restriction while not over stretching the muscles. I like to use the fingers as an example of what happens to your muscle fibers throughout the process. Your muscle fibers (fingers) should sit next to one another and run smoothly in the same direction without overlap as seen in photo A. Photo B depicts what your fibers look like when they are nice and loose following a dynamic warm-up, but not so loose as seen in Photo C which represents statically stretched fibers. Photo D shows what happens when your muscles cool down improperly. Myofascial release helps target these clumps of muscles (D) to return the fibers into their optimal starting position as seen in photo A.
Pros – Myofascial release returns the tissues to a state of normalcy, allowing the muscles to then contract in an unrestricted manner. It does not hinder performance in any way and may even help with performance by allowing the dynamic warm-up to be more effective.
Cons – Myofascial release can be seen as time consuming because you are adding time onto your already length workout programs. It typically requires some kind of tool to perform efficiently. For some, it can be seen as a painful experience while it is occurring.
The overall takeaway is static stretching should ONLY be done following performance, not before performance or you will hinder your power output. Myofascial release can be performed either after a workout or before a dynamic warm-up and will not negatively impact performance, rather assist with ensuring there are no unnecessary restrictions to the contractibility of the muscle. A dynamic warm-up should ALWAYS be what is performed before performance. This allows your body to warm-up within the necessary range of motion needed for your sport/activity. Additionally, exercises for your dynamic warm-up should be catered toward specifically utilizing the muscles and the range of motions you will need for that day. For example, if you are working on lateral movement during practice, you should cater your warm-up to include exercises involving lateral movement.