To Stretch or not to stretch that is the question

To Stretch or not to stretch that is the question

people stretchingThere has been so much written about stretching!  Should you stretch before a run, after a run or both and does it help to prevent injury?

To answer this let’s look at each stage separately.

Static Stretching

Before a run or for that matter any exercise you need to get the body prepared.  To do this properly you need to get your heart rate up and increased blood flow to the muscles to ensure they are ready for work.    Doing a few static stretches is not going to do this and in fact can be detrimental to your training and overall performance.  Why is this?  According to Jordan D. Metzl, M.D. it forces the muscles to relax which temporarily makes them weaker.  This can cause a strength imbalance between opposing muscle groups. For example stretching your hamstrings can cause them to become significantly weaker than your quads which in turn may make you more susceptible to injury.  They also reduce the blood flow to the muscles and decrease the activity of the central nervous system-that is it inhibits the brain’s ability to communicate with your muscles which limits your capacity to generate force.

So no static stretches before a run or any exercise requiring muscular strength and force.

They are however good for improving overall flexibility which helps in your day-to-day living.

Again according to Metzl stretching twice a day every day is the only way you will gain lasting benefit.  He suggests you should do static stretches twice a day holding the stretch for a minimum of 5 seconds but 15 to 30 seconds is optimal.  There is no need to warm-up the muscles so for as little as 4 min twice a day you can improve your flexibility.  You only have to stretch the muscle once you gain no benefit by repeating the stretch.

This brings me onto the dynamic Stretch

Dynamic Stretches

What is a dynamic stretch? Dynamic stretching are active movements of muscle that bring forth a stretch but are not held in the end position.  It’s when you move a muscle quickly in and out of a stretch like body-weight lunges.    Your body has many mechanisms that need to be activated and stimulated.  When you put your body through a series of stretches while in motion, it sends signals from the brain to the muscle fibres and connective tissues in that area to prepare to do work.  Your heart rate and body temperature increase.  Getting good blood flow to the working muscles is very critical in order to supply the energy needed to do the work.  Along with getting proper blood flow to the muscle fibres and connective tissues you will also gain more flexibility and range of motion.  .  In other words it improves your active flexibility the kind required to run. Many studies have shown that dynamic stretching can help increase power, improve flexibility, and increase your range of motion.

According to Metzl if you perform both dynamic and static stretching some of the flexibility improvements from one will spill over to the other.

So the last question is does it help to prevent injury?  There is no evidence that I could find that suggests that stretching either static or dynamic prevents injury.   A warm-up before a run or any exercise certainly helps in prepare the body for action but alone will make very little difference in injury prevention.   However combined with other training strategies it all helps in reducing the risk of injury.  It is like eating a salad and saying you have a healthy diet unless you are combining that with other healthy food choices daily one salad does not add up to healthy eating!!

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