Injury Prevention 101: Stretching vs Strengthening
In an effort to a healthier lifestyle, more people are working out and engaging in regular physical activity. Or maybe just increasing the frequency and/or intensity in training to take their fitness to the next level.
At some point in our workouts and trainings, mishaps can happen, leading to injury!
Injury prevention should be an important part of every physical activity to help you achieve your training goals as well as keep you healthy and safe.
“Does stretching prevent injuries?” This is a common question among patients who have approached me for treatment.
The answer? Not on its own it doesn't, but it can help!
Your risk for injuries increases if you have:
Had a previous injury - this could be a sports injury or a fracture or muscle/tendon injury from a trauma (fall, car accident).
Right to left body asymmetries
Loss of mobility and/or strength
Quick or sudden increase in volume/intensity of training without supervision
Inadequate rest and recovery
If you're currently dealing with an injury, how can you prevent and or minimise the occurrence of further injuries?
When you are injured, see a health professional to get it assessed. Complete the recommended treatment, and if you do not like the treatment recommended, get a second opinion.
Don't stop your treatment when the pain goes away. The absence of pain does not guarantee a full return of function.
It will take 4-6 weeks to see a measurable change in strength and twice as long for full return of strength.
Once you have completed your treatment, continue your mobility and strength maintenance program.
Before and after you train there are certain things you can do to ready your body for exercise and assist in your recovery between sessions.
The Warm up and the Cool down!
Why warm up?
Prepares you for exercise - physically and mentally!
Increased blood flow to muscles, thus increasing oxygen and nutrients to the muscles
Increases muscle elasticity and reduces the tension in the muscles
This in turn Increases flexibility and coordination.
Activates the core by reducing activity of superficial muscles
Warm ups should be low in intensity, full body movements,. This could include a light jog or cycle. It should also include some whole body movements (squats, lunges, sun salutations) that take the major joints through full ROM and some light core activation exercises to prime the body for activity (bird dog, dead bugs). Give yourself at least 10 minutes, longer for more intense exercise.
Why Cool Down?
Returns the body to baseline (homeostasis)
Lowers your heart rate and blood pressure
Slows your breathing
Prevents muscle soreness by flushing lactic acid out of your muscles
Prevents blood from pooling in lower extremity, prevents big drops in blood pressure which may lead to dizziness or lightheadedness.
Your cool down should include slow and gentle movements. This is the ideal time for static stretching (holding stretches 15-60 seconds). Give yourself 10 minutes to cool down.
What’s Your Recovery Plan?
To help you recover from injuries, make sure to include these in your lifestyle:
Adequate sleep (8 hours)
Massage therapy (always after exercise)
Magnesium in the form of Epsom salt baths, magnesium supplements (oral, creams, oils)
Light exercises such as walking, yoga, home mobility/strength routine
Now for the big questions - Should you stretch? How much should you stretch? How long do you hold your stretches?
First, consider whether you are more hypermobile or generally stiff . This will determine how much stretching you should do!
If you are generally stiff, more stretching is required. If you’re hypermobile, more strengthening work is required. Static stretching at 15-60 second holds post-exercise is recommended while while dynamic stretching for pre-exercises.
The safest way to stretch? Ease into the stretch until the first point of resistance, hold and breathe, then repeat through increased range.
If you are dealing with an injury it is ideal to monitor your body through your training sessions. This might include a few range of motion tests to assess for stiffness/tension in your body, which may be a sign you are pushing you body beyond its current level of strength and control. It may also include some whole body movements to assess for general ease or difficulty of movement.
Sample Movement Tests:
Head rotation left and right - do they feel easy? Are they symmetrical?
Seated trunk rotation left and right - do they feel easy? Are they symmetrical?
Forward bend (soft knees) - how low can you go?
Standing heel raise - can you go up with ease? Or do you roll out on your ankles?
Squat and or lunge - how easy and fluid does the movement feel? Note any stiffness and/or pain?
Below are a series of exercises (can be practiced in any order). Try monitoring if any of the below exercises either positively or negatively impact your movement tests!
Child's pose hold 30 seconds, add side stretch to each side 30 seconds each
Back bends (cobra/sphinx) 5-10x - holding up to 5 breath
Table stretch/downward dog 30 seconds 3x
Bridging: with or without pelvic tilts 10x
Bird dog 10x per side
Dead bugs 10-20x per side (depending on base level of strength(
Hip flexor stretches 20-30 seconds 2-3x
Glute stretches 20-30 seconds 2-3x
Crab walks, squats with band around knees/thighs 10-20 reps
To ensure that you can continue training at a level that not only satisfies you, but helps you achieve you health and fitness goals, listen to your body. Sometimes it wants to be pushed harder and you’ll be stronger for it. But sometimes, you need to take it easy - when you have a lot going on (life stress - work, home, etc) the body can respond just as well to a lighter/easier workout.