Stretching vs. Warming Up
“What’s the difference between stretching and warming up?”
“Did my injury occur because I did not stretch before my physical activity?”
Both are great questions and my immediate answer is no…and yes! Confusing, huh?
Let me explain a few things.
Stretching and warming up are often used interchangeably, however, they are not the same. Surprisingly, stretching before an activity is not doing much for you at all. Even worse, stretching before an activity can actually decrease your performance. The belief that stretching is a warm-up is a common myth, so don't feel bad if you're just learning this fact!
Let’s first discuss the difference between stretching and warming up. The main goal of stretching is to increase muscle flexibility and maintain joint range of motion. The aim of a general warm-up is to increase heart rate which thereby increases blood supply and oxygen to working muscles.
What are the benefits of stretching?
Stretching plays an important roll in our overall health because it helps increase our flexibility. While this may not sound important, it definitely is. It is estimated that 33% of Americans will experience low back pain annually, especially if we spend eight hours a day seated at a desk. Extensive sitting can lead to tightness in our hamstrings. When we increase the flexibility of our hamstrings, we can reduce the chances of low back pain during bending and lifting activities.
It is important to understand that tightness in one muscle group can cause another muscle group to work harder to compensate for this tightness. It’s this imbalance that can lead to injury. When we elongate a muscle by stretching, we are preventing weaker muscles from compensating and minimizing the likelihood of muscle “strains."
What are the benefits of warming up?
A lack of appropriate warm-up prior to physical activity may be the bigger culprit to acute injuries. A proper warm up will elevate the body’s temperature which increases muscle extensibility. In other words, it makes muscles more pliable so they can work through their full range of motion, thus making them less prone to injury. Just as glass becomes more “bendable” when heated up, our muscles will do the same thing. A cold muscle cannot bend and stretch as well as a warm muscle, which can cause injury.
Additionally, a warm-up should be specific to the physical activity you plan to perform. It can be as simple as a low intensity walk, run, or cycle before you speed up the pace. Or, if your workout involves squats, then start with air squats first to get the muscles around the hips and knees working. This helps prepare your body for the forthcoming exercises by using the same muscle groups. When you begin the actual workout, the ability to perform at a higher level should be greatly improved.
Can stretching ever count as a warm-up?
Stretching can be broken into two main types: static and dynamic.
Static stretching means holding a stretch for ten seconds or more in a fixed position. Well-known examples of this are a standing toe-touch stretch or a forward leaning calf stretch against a wall. Neither of these are recommended as a warm-up.
Dynamic stretching is the opposite of static stretching. This involves active motions that require a gradual increase in range of motion and speed that prepares the muscles and joints for performance. Good examples of dynamic stretching are arm circles, leg swings, and air squats. Again, this form of stretching should mimic the activity/sport you plan to perform and takes you through a full variety of movements.
Do we need to warm-up before every workout?
Warming up is by far the most important piece to incorporate before every workout, even before stretching. Make sure the warm-up movements mirror the movements of the activity you plan to participate in. Do as many reps as you need to feel ready to go. Save stretching until after your training or at night to calm your body and prepare for rest.
If you’d like to learn more about warm-up routines and injury prevention, give us a call or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We love helping clients get the most from their workouts.
Thanks for reading!
Lauren Sok PT, MPT
Fearless leader and mother of the team, Lauren took the leap to found Functionize in 2015 after nearly 20 years in conventional physical therapy practice with the ultimate goal of creating a new legacy for her family and her colleagues.
Finding energy in helping others and joy in watching them succeed, Lauren embraces childish enthusiasm and overt optimism in the face of entrepreneurship. Despite doubts and challenges, Lauren braved starting a cash-based physical therapy practice at a time when private-pay was a novel concept in the healthcare industry.
Raised in a small, blue-collar town in Pennsylvania, Lauren grew up with her parents constantly with grace and agility, which became a prime motivation for her to help others do the same. Lauren came to learn that a proactive approach to health and wellness is the key for living your fullest life. The first in her family to go to college, Lauren laid the foundation for Functionize in hard work and determination.
To create the dream team, Lauren carefully curated a culture comprised of dynamic, invested and innately curious experts in relentless pursuit of providing best-in-class care and a customized approach for each individual patient.
Lauren’s intention is for her clients to feel they have a coach, partner and friend in with Functionize. Her goal is to ensure every person who comes into the Functionize fold leaves the education, support and empowerment to regain control over health and optimize wellness. Ultimately, she is dedicated to disrupting the current approach to healthcare for one that focuses on humans as a whole as opposed to the sum of symptoms.
Today, Lauren lives in Dunwoody with her husband, Kevin, teenage twin boys, Ethan and Austin, and spunky daughter, Sienna. When she is not running between sporting events, networking socials, supper clubs, carpooling, and school volunteering, Lauren enjoys traveling, running, a lazy day on the beach, OrangeTheory Fitness, and exploring the food and events in Atlanta, GA.
1. “Why Stretching and Warming Up Are Not the Same,” Breakingmuscle.com
2. Trinh, Emily. “The Difference Between Stretching and Warming Up” for Aaptiv.com
3. Whittington, Brian. “Stretching vs Warming Up: What’s the Difference?” for athletico.com, Sept 27, 2016.
4. Phillips, David. “PGA Coach Breaks Down the Basics of Stretching vs. Warming Up” for whoop.com, July 06, 2020.