How useful is stretching prior to a workout? How long should you stretch for? How long should your warm-up be? What is the difference between the two? These questions have been hotly debated between myself and my martial arts colleagues for quite a number of years.
Back in the day, when we would have school gym classes, we would be encouraged, and even required to stretch prior to taking the class or playing sports. But does it serve a purpose in the martial arts? The argument is that if you were to suddenly face off against a dangerous foe in the street, you wouldn’t have time to warm up or stretch. So why would you train that way? You won’t have that benefit if you actually need to fight. There are two sides to the coin, and some believe you should stretch; some believe you shouldn’t.
According to an online article posted by Men’s Journal, experts agree that a combination of static stretching with dynamic movement would be the best route and guarantees some benefit to your workouts. Prolonged static stretching has shown to actual decrease athletic performance in most people.
The article goes on to explain that you should only spend approximately one minute stretching any major muscle group in order to avoid decreasing one’s performance.
And what about an actual warm up routine? Are the same factors present there? For most athletes, the belief is that you should include a short period of cardio before any major workout. Of course, my personal belief is that this can include some dynamic stretching as well. But the consensus seems to be that warm ups shouldn’t take more than ten to fifteen minutes, at maximum.
For a period of twenty years while I was able to practice consistently at my home dojo, (Dalhousie, New Brunswick by the way) students were expected to stretch prior to the start of class. This was required so that the class could roll right into the warm up, which would NEVER go beyond the fifteen minute mark. My Sensei would make it clear that students should show up to class at least fifteen minutes prior to start in order to stretch properly. It was generally understood that if you didn’t take advantage of this fifteen minutes, or showed up late, you were responsible for stretching properly or deal with the potential injuries. This is something that is also covered in an article posted by Livestrong.com
It’s important to warm up the muscles and get that heart rate up during any workout. Stretching and warming up are integral parts of a good workout, but let’s be clear: it IS possible to stretch or warm up to much! Stretching one muscle group for more than a minute or so will cause it to have reduced elasticity decrease muscle performance. A decent, cardio-based warm up that exceeds ten to fifteen minutes will lead to a build-up of lactic acid on the muscle tissue and will prevent a good work out. Some martial arts schools will have a warm-up that encompasses almost half of their scheduled class time, which hinders the proper growth and progression of its students.
So here’s the bottom line: get to class early, stretch well, then enjoy a brief warm up so that you can get down to business. Focus on technique and precision, listen closely and never stop practicing.
Bearing in mind that I’m not a doctor, kinesiologist or professional (other than my thirty years of intensive martial arts training!), you can review some of the facts I’ve quoted at Men’s Journal (https://www.mensjournal.com/health-fitness/should-you-stretch-before-working-out-20160205/) or LiveStrong.com (https://www.livestrong.com/article/511702-how-long-should-a-warm-up-last/)
As I enter my fourth decade of life, I’ve come to learnt hat it is all the more important to stretch properly and be nicely warmed up before getting down and dirty, especially in the martial arts! As usual, I’m compelled to remind everyone to consult their family health practitioner before starting ANY major fitness regiment. Stay healthy!