> Skip repeated content

Pediatrics at HSS

Good Question: What’s the Difference Between Stretching and Warming Up? - logo image

Good Question: What’s the Difference Between Stretching and Warming Up?

Everyone knows that before you hit the court (or the field or the track), you’ve got to prep your body. So does it really matter when you stretch and when you warm up? Absolutely, experts say. These two types of moves serve very different purposes and are a must before and after your tween or teen plays a game. To clear up the confusions, we turned to Kelsie Ganshert, PT, DPT, a physical therapist in the CA Technologies Rehabilitation Center at the Hospital for Special Surgery Lerner Children’s Pavilion. Here’s what she told us.

A warm-up is a burst of light activity, like a short jog, jumping jacks, passing a ball back and forth, or high-knee skipping. Sure, it may not look like you’re doing much in those five or 10 minutes, but all those movements increase body temperature and blood flow to the muscles. This, in turn, helps boost muscle elasticity and reduce strain. “When the muscle becomes more elastic, that helps with the range of motion at the joints, knees and ankles,” she explains. “Some research also says it will help improve a child’s balance on the field and help give them an overall sense of where their limbs are—two things that can also help prevent injury.”

Stretching, on the other hand, is when you hold a position for an extended length of time, usually 30 seconds or so. Like warming up, it helps with a muscle’s elasticity, and should be done before and after any intense activity.

But that’s not all. Ganshert also says there are two types of stretches. Dynamic stretching involves slow, controlled movements, like walking lunges or high-knee jogging, and can be done during your warm-up. Static stretching is holding a stretch for 30-second intervals and is best done post-game to cool down the muscles and help prevent second-day soreness.

Though prepping your muscles before a game is important at any age, it’s especially crucial for young athletes. “In general, when kids are growing, their bones are growing faster than their muscles are elongating,” she says. “So their muscles get tight during a growth spurt—I find a lot of kids feel the tightness in their hamstrings in particular. And the hamstrings help to give extra stability to the knee joints and some ligaments to help prevent injury. If they’re tight, that will add extra stress to the knee and could make it more prone to injury.”