How to Stretch ?
You may or may not be aware of the present clinical debate around stretching?
Basically stretching has had some bad press recently. It was once common practice to stretch pre and post exercise.
There’s a lot of different opinions towards the role of stretching in sports performance and injury prevention.
I will now to try to simplify the evidence and research, as well as my own clinical opinion to help answer your stretching queries.
The main types of stretching that you can do yourself are static and dynamic stretches.
1. Static Stretching
In static stretching, the stretch position is assumed slowly and held at end of range.
The idea is to increase tension to create a reverse myotatic stretch reflex and elongate a muscle and hold it there for a period of time (Brukner and Khan 2006).
For example: A common hamstring stretch, by leaning forward keeping the leg straight, or calf stretch.
Research shows that static stretches have been found to reduce strength and power, when used before activity.
A study by Musham and Hayes (2010) showed a reduction peak performance over a 20 meter sprint. A meta analysis (review of all the research) by Simic et al (2012) concluded…
“..the usage of static stretching as the sole activity during a warm up routine should generally be avoided.’’
However, it was found that these negative effects did not last long and after 10 – 15 mins tissue structure had returned to normal. If the static stretch was held for less than 90 seconds there were minimal negative effects (Behm & chaouachi, 2011).
A study by Herber et al (2011) found that ‘’stretching before or after exercise does not reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness.’’
However anecdotally I find some people do report they feel a benefit from stretching after exercise.
If you feel this helps with your muscle soreness, I’m not saying stop.
A study by Jamtvedt et al (2010) showed that post exercise stretching does not show a significant reduction in injury risk but did show a reduction in bothersome soreness.
2. Dynamic Stretching
Dynamic stretching is active movements of muscle that use momentum to take the muscle to its end of range and therefore bring forth a stretch, but are not held in the end position.
Best performed with no bouncing at the end of range.
At present the research shows that dynamic stretching either has no benefit or that it MAY help performance (Behum, Chaouachi, 2011).
Begum et al 2011 concluded that a warm up should consist of sub maximal intensity aerobic activity and large amplitude dynamic stretching.
So to put this into context…
- Don’t worry if you have been static stretching before running, you haven’t done any long term damage
- If you don’t like pre running static stretching, you don’t have to do it 😃, as there is minimal evidence to support any benefits for runners. There may be benefit for sports such as gymnastics, but personally I try to avoid cartwheels and summersaults when on a canicross run!
- Dynamic stretches included in a warm up may or may not be beneficial.
I bet you’re thinking that this wasn’t really much help?!
What it has done is take the focus off the importance of static stretching as a must do before a run.
In my view, time is precious and the additional exercises to running need to be effective!
Even though evidence around stretching for injury prevention is generally inconclusive (McHugh et al (2010) flexibility still has a role in injury prevention.
A study by Kieran O’Sullivan (2012) shows
‘’..eccentric training is an effective method of increasing lower limb flexibility.’’
Eccentric exercises are where a muscle lengthens under load. For example, the downward phase of a heel raise.
As well as increasing flexibility, strength is also improved.
When we run, the ground reaction force (load) that our muscles have to manage is 3 times our body weight. Therefore it is important for the muscles to be strong through the range of movement that is used in an activity.
Again enforcing the importance of stretch and conditioning for injury prevention.
What to stretch ?
This brings me on to what muscles to stretch.
If you want to use stretches as a treatment for repetitive running injuries please be aware that there are conditions that are aggravated by stretching. Also every individual is different in what structures are tight, weak or strong. Therefore, please see a professional for specific injury advice.
But generally hamstrings, quadriceps, calves and glutes are muscle groups that work hard when running, and therefore need to be strong through range.
Unfortunately there is no magic formula to the best pre run warm up!
- No need to static stretch before running, if you don’t want to. If do you want to then keeping below a 45 sec hold won’t impair performance
- It may be beneficial to add Dynamic stretches to your warm up routine
- There’s no reduction in injury risk to post run stretches but it may reduce the dreaded DOMS (delayed onset of muscle soreness)
- Tightness may be weakness. Add some eccentric exercises into your Strength and Conditioning session to get strong through range
It’s important to remember every individual’s situation is different. If you have any concerns about your health and running please see a physiotherapist or health professional for advice and treatment specific to your needs.