Warm Up With Balance Drills
While a common belief is that stretching before exercise will prevent various injuries, research challenges this notion. In fact, studies show that the primary time stretching prevents injury is when your range of motion is insufficient for the activity you are attempting. What does, in fact, prevent injury is improving your balance and agility, two skills that can be improved for benefit at any age.
How It Works
Balance and agility rely on three systems in your body that are coordinated by the brain. These three systems are the: Visual, Inner Ear (vestibular), and Proprioceptive Systems. The rarely talked about Proprioceptive System is a system of neurologic receptors found in joints and muscles that give feedback to the brain about their position and motion, and, is simple to train.
One study examined the effects of pre-exercise stretching on lower limb injuries during an 11-week training period with 1,538 Australian army recruits. A control (non-stretching) group and a stretching group were compared and found to have the same amount of injuries.
Another study looked at marathon runner injuries. In this review of 1,543 high level runners, 47% who stretched regularly were hurt during a one year period while only 33% of those who didn’t stretch suffered injuries.
Finally, systematic reviews of sports medicine literature showed again and again that stretching is not an antidote for injury. Much research has been done in this area and is easily accessed via the internet.
The research shows that warm-up activities should begin with dynamic maneuvers to elevate one’s heart rate, jumping jacks for example. This should be followed by brief (5-10 second) stretches of the muscles you’ll be using, which are then followed by balance drills that warm-up your Proprioceptive System. Lastly, perform some dynamic stretches, which are maneuvers similar to your event or activity, e.g., repetitive throwing motions for a quarterback or baseball pitcher.
Consider the professional bicyclists who spin their bike for 30 minutes or more just before the start of a time trial, or the runners performing various sprinting drills before the event. Just because these people are world class athletes does not mean that you can’t use the same techniques! A great example comes from the Japanese National Volleyball Team. After running and jumping for several minutes they practice balance drills that you can do too!
Balance Drills You Can Do
Begin by standing on one leg with the goal of holding this position quietly for 30 seconds. As you improve, increase the challenge by doing this barefoot. Once you can do this, put your shoe back on and stand on a soft surface like a pillow or plush carpet. Again, to increase the challenge, do this barefoot. For a really extreme challenge try doing these drills with your eyes closed! The important part is to keep the ankle still and gradually progress the time of practice.
When To Stretch
Stretching is a fantastic, healthy activity. In fact, it is one of the best means to counteract the effects of gravity on our body. Gravity is the main reason we shrink as we age, and why our posture and joints deteriorate. The tremendous benefit of stretching is that it elongates our muscle system, which takes pressure off of our joints. This allows our body to attain better alignment and handle the stresses of gravity more efficiently.
Consider stretching as a workout of and by itself, so set aside a specific time for flexibility training. Anywhere from one to four workouts per week can give you significant gains in flexibility. And the best time for stretching is anytime when you can ensure that your body is warmed up. If you are stretching as part of athletics, stretch AFTER the event or activity.
Good Luck and Be Well!
1. Thacker, Stephen et al., “The impact of Stretching on Sports Injury Risk: A systematic review of the literature.”, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 36(3):371-378 March 2004
2. “A Randomised Trial of Pre-Exercise Stretching for Prevention of Lower Limb Injury,” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, Vol.32(2), pp.271-277, 2000
3. Injuries in Australian Army Recruits, Part III: The Accuracy of a PreTraining Orthopedic Screen in Predicting Ultimate Injury Outcome”, Military Medicine, Vol.162, pp.481-483,1997
4. “New Study Links Stretching with Higher Injury Rates”, Running Research News, Vol.10(3), pp.5-6, 1994
For more information call Dr. Sachtler at 775-787-3733.