STRETCHING AND FLEXIBILITY
Lets start with a question, how many of us can touch our toes? Now for another question, how often when running do you find yourself needing to be able to touch your toes?
There has been a long running debate about the validity of stretching. For many years we were told to stretch before exercise and after exercise, indeed daily stretching has been suggested. However, there is little evidence showing that stretching benefits performance or reduces injury risk. Herbert and Gabriel (2002) found that static stretching before or after exercise had no effect in reducing muscle soreness. Haddad et al. (2013) found that static stretching in the 24 hours prior to performing had a negative effect on explosive power, whereas dynamic stretching improved sprint and long jump performance.
When to do static stretching
Whilst being able to touch our toes when running may not be important, some flexibility is definitely good. Muscle flexibility will help range of motion, the point of the muscles is to move a joint, lack of flexibility therefore will result in a reduced range of motion around that joint. Therefore, if you have identified a lack of range of motion then stretching is definitely a good thing in order to improve that. But not immediately before exercise. One set of muscles that a lot of people typically find is restrictive would be the hip flexors (e.g. Illiacus, Psoas Major, Rectus Femoris). If you’re sitting down, and most of us spend a lot of the day sitting down, then those muscles spent a lot of time shortened. They then get used to being shortened and don’t like to be lengthened. Their opposing muscles, the hip extensors (e.g. Glute Max, Hamstrings) spend a long time stretched, so do we need to do more hamstring stretches? Possibly we need to stretch the hip flexors, which in turn works the hip extensors by making them contract, an important part of running power getting that hip extension.
To perform stretches to increase range of motion, hold the stretch for 30 seconds, anything longer has no additional benefit. Do this twice each side, that’s only 2 minutes a day.
Whilst having good flexibility will produce good range of motion, it is worth noting that flexibility without the muscular strength to manage it can result in hyperextension or balance issues and lead to injuries. Therefore, marry stretching with proprioceptive and strength training, we will look at that in part 4.
Before any exercise, especially running, and even more so before high intensity running such as sprinting, dynamic stretching is very important. This gets the joints mobilised as well as the muscles activated, as we sore in part 2 of this series.
If you believe that static stretching helps then carry on, but the evidence suggests that there are no benefits to it. However, if you identify a lack of range of motion then static stretching will benefit. It’s about identifying a need rather just doing it because it’s always been done.
Haddad, M., Dridi, A., Chtara, M., Chaouachi, A., Wong, D., Behm, D. & Chamari, K. (2013) Static Stretching Can Impair Explosive
Performance For at Least 24 Hours. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 28(1): 140-146
Herbert, R. & Gabriel, M. (2002). Effects of Stretching Before and After Exercising on Muscle Soreness and Risk of Injury: A Systematic Review. British Medical Journal 325(7362): 468