From a young age many of us have been taught that stretching prior to exercise helps prevent injury. However, with the ongoing debate about whether to stretch statically or dynamically, and before or after running, many runners are not sure on how to choose the best stretching strategy for optimal results and reduced injury.
As physiotherapists we are regularly asked questions such as:
Is it better to stretch before or after running?
Does stretching help reduce injury or pain?
Can stretching improve running performance?
What is the best type of stretching?
It is apparent that stretching still causes plenty of confusion.
Common types of stretching
The most commonly performed techniques can be broken down into static and dynamic stretches.
Static stretches are the type many will be familiar with from childhood sports; passive positions held for a period of time, usually twenty to thirty seconds, aiming to gradually lengthen the muscles. Typical examples are the sit and reach type stretches, such as the hamstring stretch.
Dynamic stretches are a bit more complicated, involving stretching the muscles and joints whilst moving. In dynamic stretching the limbs are purposefully moved into a lengthened position, preferably one that is activity or sports specific. Examples include slow jogging on the spot while bringing the knees up the chest or kicking the heels to the backside, or a slow walking lunge.
Which should I choose and what does the research say?
Recent research suggests that the common practice of static stretching before an athletic performance such as running may not be that useful in reducing overall injury rates. A study appearing in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sport, which analysed over 100 research papers published between 1966-2010, found that generally, static stretching before activity should be avoided as the only form of warm up. The researchers asserted that static stretching alone directly prior to exercise may have no additional benefit to injury prevention and may actually have a negative effect on maximal muscle strength and explosive performance.
Though other studies have found that static stretching may have a specific benefit to tendon and muscle injury only which may be of interest to runners, it is apparent that the best approach to take prior to running is an effective warm up session. The warm up session should consist of a combination of low intensity aerobic activity for example a walk or very light jog (even on the spot) followed by dynamic (preferably activity specific) movements/stretching. The warm up is a crucial component of any exercise performance, especially prior to high demand activities such as sprinting and long distance running, and is important in preparing for optimal performance and reduced injury.
As the total investment of time should be similar regardless of whether a person chooses static or dynamic stretching, there are few excuses for missing a proper warm up.
Examples of dynamic stretches for running
Include walking lunges, walking bringing the knees up to chest or kicking heels to the backside and standing high kicks.
What you need to know
• All dynamic movements should be performed slowly and with control through full available range of motion without jerky movements, over-stretching or pain.
• Each movement can be repeated a number of times for thirty seconds to one minute each as a rough guide.
• Individual programs will vary depending upon a person’s requirements, as there are many more different options.
• Please see your physiotherapist to discuss your individual needs if you are unsure
If you are interested in booking an appointment with a local Sports Physiotherapist to discuss stretching techniques that are individual for your running program and distances, please book online here or call your nearest Melbourne Sports Physiotherapy clinic.