Looking back to when I was 9-year-old working on my next belt in Kuk Sool Won, or Karate, or as a jumped into my regular fitness routine in the late 1980’s, stretching and warm-up have always been a part of my day. Over the past decade there has been a lot more research looking at static vs. active stretching and “warm up” routines, and most (not all) of the findings lean to “active” stretching and warm-ups, being better than static.
Some recent research suggests that thoughtful static stretching, with holds lasting no more than 15 seconds can be a healthy part of your warm-up routine. However, the benefit of this stretching diminishes if you hold stretches for more than 15 seconds, and you risk injury (during the stretch or after the stretch) if you do it wrong, too hard, too long, etc. There are also a number of traditional stretches that athletes have been known to do (e.g. the move that replicates the leg placement of a hurdler, with one leg straight in front of you and the other bent and pulled back behind you), that are simply dangerous and may cause ligament and/or joint damage.
A recent article from The Greatist, which I follow and love, reveals some research demonstrating that those who warm up with static stretching, actually run slower than those that do not. In their article they include a few steps to improve your warm up routine including: 1) Loosen Up, 2) Get The Heart Pumping, 3) Stretch, Baby Stretch (but don’t hold the pose), and 5) Practice. Worth having a look at their article.
I personally have pulled back dramatically on my stretching, am very thoughtful about any stretch that I do, and never hold for more than 15 minutes. I have also taken steps to more actively warm up. I shadow box, do some jumping jacks, light jogging in place, and various other movements, depending on what I’m getting ready to do. The point here is a) you do need to warm up before jumping into your weight-lifting or cardio routine, and b) it’s good if you heat up your warm up a bit, by making it active.
Small steps add up!!!