The overall format I originally decided upon was as follows:
- 10 min aerobic warmup
- 5 min lower body stretching
- Training session or matchplay
- Cooldown, including 5 min lower body stretching
It is currently winter in my part of the world, and consequently it doesn't take very long to for your body to start to feel cold again. I was using static stretches (the stretches I was originally taught many years ago), and since static stretching involves holding the body still at the endpoint of a particular stretch, I was cooling off much faster than I liked. That was without doing any upper body stretches either - another five minutes of stretching my upper body and I'd almost be back where I started! But I couldn't see much that I could do about it really, so I consoled myself that it was better to do some stretching and cool off a little, instead of doing no stretching at all.
On a separate note, although my legs are feeling much better, I do have some niggling wear and tear just below my left kneecap. I was curious whether there were any stretches that I could do for that area that I didn't know about, so I hopped on the Internet and did a bit of Googling. Naturally enough, I found more exercises than I could point a stick at, but I also found people on these stretching websites recommending a different kind of stretching that I hadn't heard of before - dynamic stretching.
Dynamic Stretching - New Name, But Old News?At first, I thought this might just be the old form of ballistic stretching under a different name, so I was a bit skeptical. Back in the day, we were always told that ballistic stretching (where a bouncing motion is used to increase the amount of stretch achieved) was a dangerous way to stretch, since it could easily result in stretching too far and injuring a muscle. But further reading showed that this dynamic stretching, which uses the speed and momentum of your movement, along with antagonistic muscle contraction to stretch a particular muscle (such as contracting your quadriceps to help stretch your hamstrings), was not the same thing as ballistic stretching at all. Dynamic stretching uses controlled leg and arm movements to take you gently to the limit of your range of motion, not to try to bounce beyond your limits.
Advocates of dynamic stretching were claiming that dynamic stretching was more effective at reducing muscle stiffness, while static stretching actually reduces muscle strength temporarily, and may not increase dynamic flexibility at all (i.e. being flexible when moving).
Getting Down and DynamicI was intrigued, and decided to pick a few lower body exercises to try out instead of static stretching. The very first thing I noticed was that when doing the dynamic stretches, my heart rate stayed much higher, and in fact went up for some of them! At the end of the five minutes of dynamic stretching, my body still felt warm, and I was ready and raring to go.
I'm still using static stretches at the end of the workout, where I'm happy to have my heart rate go down as part of my overall cooling off period. And I'm thinking of adding some upper body dynamic stretches to my first stretching session, since I should be able to keep warm while stretching now.
I've been using the dynamic stretching before my main training session for about a week at the time of writing, and I'm happy with the results. It keeps me warm while doing my stretches, and at the same time I can perform stretches that I feel better prepare me for the movements I'll be making while playing table tennis. I've never much liked the old static stretches and how you had to hold the stretch at the slightly painful extreme anyway, so I'm not sorry to be doing less of them either.
ConclusionStretching is important for every athlete, but if you are still using the old static stretching techniques, it might be worthwhile giving dynamic stretching a go before you go out to train or play. And if you were like me and not using a regular warm up and stretching program before each session, wise up and take 10-20 minutes to prepare yourself properly and avoid a potential serious injury which might keep you away from table tennis for months!
Some dynamic stretching webpages which you might find useful: