You see it on the deck of every swimming pool. For years, it’s been an almost automatic part of many swimmer’s dryland warm-up. Pull each arm back to ‘stretch’ out tight shoulders.
Hold a 60-second quad stretch, reach down and touch your toes, then it’s time to hit the pool, right? According to science, only if you want to be slow and weak! A series of new studies supports movement-specific dynamic warm-ups as a better way to prep for performance.
Dangers of Static Stretching
The New York Times recently wrote on two new studies — with different methodologies — that illustrate the anti-performance effects of static stretching pre-workout. The first study, conducted at Stephen F. Austin State University, showed significant strength impairment in individuals who practiced static stretching before lifting as opposed to those who performed dynamic warm-ups. (Even when someone performed both types of warm-up, static stretching seemed to negate the positive performance boost of dynamic moves like explosive lunges.)
The second study by researchers in Croatia looked at a total of 104 previous studies on stretching and athletic performance. Almost across the board — and regardless of age, sex, or fitness level — static stretching before a workout impaired explosive movement and strength performance. Does pre-exercise static stretching inhibit maximal muscular performance? A meta-analytical review. Simic, L., Sarabon, N., Markovic, G. Motor Control and Human Performance Laboratory, University of Zagreb. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports. 2013 Mar;23(2): 131-48.
Why Static Stretching Is So Bad
Loosening muscles and tendons in the “traditional” manner leaves them less able to move quickly and on command when it comes time to swim. While it’s great to improve the your body’s range of motion, many of the more common mobility-boosting moves are better performed at a time completely separate from working out (such as taking a nice break from the computer screen).
Before you hit the pool opt for a dynamic warm-up that consists of moves that prepare the body for specific activity such as plyometric movements like skipping or jump squats or even explosive push-ups. Dynamic moves are a great way to elevate your heart rate before hitting the pool. This will prep the nervous system for peak output. Happy swimming!