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TO STRETCH OR NOT TO STRETCH?

When you’re about to go for a run, a common area of confusion is around the question “Should I stretch first?”

First why would you not stretch?
Some common excuses are – I don’t have enough time or is it really valuable to stretch?
To which the answer is make time and in terms of value can you really afford not to? 

Some people sit on the fence and discuss pros + cons. I won’t, yes 100% you should stretch before exercise. The key points are How, What, and When you should stretch.

Pre exercises, start by going for a gentle jog to warm up the muscles (never stretch cold muscles) then go through a series of dynamic stretching exercises, these should target the muscles you're about to use and also mimic the movement you are about to do e.g. leg swings.

You can also employ running drills such as butt kickers, high knees, these are useful for any distances although especially if you are working on shorter distances like an interval session.

What not to do: Unless your muscles are already tight then you should never do static stretching prior to exercise. There are 3 main reasons for this

1) Injury: you risk a muscle pull if the legs are stretched when they are not sufficiently warmed up

2) Injury: by stretching a muscle that isn't already tight you risk creating joint laxity, I.e. instability around the joint, which can lead to potential injury as you run.

3) Performance: Even if injury is not caused by the static stretching at the start of the session, at the very least you may be negatively impacting your performance. Studies have shown a decrease in power output, speed and balance when participants undertook static stretching.

The only time when it may be acceptable to not stretch is on an easy/recovery run over even terrain, just ensure you start off slowly allowing the muscles to warm up and don’t, on a whim,  suddenly change the session to a fartlek or hill session.

To stretch or not to stretch after a run.

There is already a fairly accepted consensus that post exercise stretching is needed, so I won't berate you too much. However, if you’re not stretching post exercise or just occasionally then you need to make sure you do it.

All you need to do is spend about 3-5 minutes at the end of the session going through a series of static stretches that target the muscles you've just exercised. Don't wait too long as you want to stretch whilst the muscles are still warm, start by taking them to a point of mild tension. You need to hold each stretch for 15 seconds for maintenance stretching. i.e. during exercise muscles contract and shorten, therefore maintenance stretching simply returns a muscle back to the length it was pre exercise.

However, if you have muscles that are tighter than others (hamstrings are often a culprit) then you may need to employ developmental stretches to extend the length of these muscles. This simply means that you extend the duration of the stretch to 30 seconds, if the tension eases off before the time has elapsed then simply increase the stretch until you regain the mild tension.

Another common counter used to dismiss stretching is this one “I've never stretched and it's not done me any harm”, lucky you, however surviving a few sessions unscathed does not mean damage is not being done. It is the cumulative effect of not stretching that gradually reduces flexibility which can lead to muscle tightness and from there an increase in injury risk and can ultimately in some cases lead to postural problems as tighter muscles are a proven factor in some causes of back pain

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This article isn't a comprehensive warm up guide but a call to arms to make sure you are doing an effective warm up and cool down. The internet is a mine of information on dynamic and static stretches with videos, pictorial representations and descriptions.

 

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Last Updated on Friday, 23 June 2017 13:43  

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