Just a quick bit of housekeeping first. This is general information only, to be discussed with a professional familiar with your specific needs, and to keep this video short and to the point I’ll just give you the facts, and put the details and references in this article.
Lets look at flexibility first. You might want to increase your flexibility to loosen up before a work out, relieve the tightness after, or you may want to generally increase your flexibility like say a gymnast or martial artist would do.
Marketers will tell you that clinical trials show that foam rolling will increase flexibility. They do, but don’t tell you that this increase only lasts less than 10 minutes, which makes foam rolling to increase your flexibility pretty pointless
On the other hand stretching is probably the benchmark for increasing flexibility. It will lengthen your muscles, allow for increased joint movements, and importantly the effects last. To do conventional stretching each muscle is going to have it’s own specific movement and position, but the general principle is to gently tension the muscle for about 30 seconds.
Looking at warm ups next, these are done before exercise or competition, and the main goals are to help prepare your muscles to prevent injuries and to enhance performance.
The idea behind injury prevention is that if tight muscles are forced to lengthen they may tear, and restricted joints may be injured if they are forced to move too far. That’s why warm ups should make sure your muscles are not tight, and your joints are able to move fully.
People have historically used stretching exercises to help do that, but when the scientists have tested it stretching hasn’t reduced the number of injuries. The reason for this is on one hand stretching your muscles will reduce their risk of tearing, but on the other hand stretching can allow joints to move beyond their normal range, make them more vulnerable.
What this tells us, is if you use stretching before competition or a work out just limit the stretches to normal amounts of movement. Alternatively, there’s other ways which I’ll discuss shortly that will lengthen the muscles without the risk of over stretching joints.
Looking at increasing performance next, marketers will talk about things like increasing blood flow and raising temperature. They talk about that stuff rather than actual increased performance because the trials of foam rolling usually show either no increase in performance, or a small reduction.
Looking at stretching, in competition you certainly don’t want tight muscles restricting your movement, but stretching, especially over-stretching has been shown to actually decrease performance.
Alternatives for warm-ups
That said, lets look at your alternatives for a warm up. According to the scientists the two highly effective things you can do for a warm up are a dynamic warm up and genuine vibration massage. I’ll discuss these at the finish, but they both help lengthen muscles and have both been scientifically shown to increase performance. What they’ve found is properly applied vibration at the right frequencies will increase strength and increase the time taken for your muscles to fatigue, while in one trial dynamic warm-ups actually enabled athletes to jump 2 inches or 5cm higher.
Post exercise recovery
The last usage we’ll look at is post exercise recovery. What’s happening here is strenuous exercise can do microscopic damage to your muscle fibres, leaving you feeling a bit stiff and sore, and your muscles will be down on performance. What you’re after is something that’s going to relieve the tightness and help speed up healing.
Stretching is often recommended, but the clinical trials show that any effects are miniscule. Looking at what stretching does I could see that it could help relax the muscles allowing a bit more blood to flow, but at the same time it could disrupt the muscle fibres that are trying to heal. So, no benefits and a lot of question marks.
Now you will also see foam rollers heavily marketed as something to help recovery, and that marketing will often mention scientific trials. However, the marketers won’t tell you that these improvements were really small, or that all the other trials showed no benefits at all. To give you the real picture about how useful foam rolling is for post exercise recovery a scientist recently reviewed all 21 studies and concluded that the effects of foam rolling on performance and recovery were rather minor and partially negligible. We also have other scientists who’ve expressed concern about potential damage to to nerves and blood vessels.
Alternatives for post exercise recovery
I’m sure you’re aware that there’s a lot of stuff marketed as aids to recovery, but the reality is that most are pretty well useless. What I’d recommend is you check out our practical science based guide to post exercise recovery linked in the description. This gives the proper overall strategy including basics such as rest, sleep, hydration and nutrition, plus the pros and cons of the various therapies said to help. Of these additional therapies vibration massage has produced by far the most benefit in clinical trials.
Convention massage is not as good, but still useful so if you’re a member of a sports club that provides massage after your game or workout that will help a bit. Also you’ll probably read about a thing called active recovery. That’s simply using some light exercises to help loosen muscles and get some blood pumping. This can be useful, but you’re walking a tight rope. Done in moderation it will help relax the muscles and increase blood flow, but too much and it will damage the muscle fibres that are trying to heal.