The Myths of Stretching – do we really need to stretch before exercise?

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The Myths of Stretching

It’s the age-old dilemma… should we stretch before running or not? Do we believe the myths of stretching?

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I’ve always been active, particularly through my teens and into adulthood, and I (like many others) have ALWAYS been advised to stretch prior to exercise. “If you don’t stretch you’ll increase your chance of getting injured” my coach would say. But is this true? Do we need to spend 5-10 minutes ‘warming up’ with long static holds prior to running to help to avoid injury? We break down the myths of stretching.

The aim of a warm-up is to get our body ready for a run by increasing our circulation and warming up the muscles. Static stretching usually involves isolating a particular muscle and holding a stretch for approximately 30 seconds. The idea is that we’ll help improve muscle length and flexibility, ultimately reducing our chance of getting injured; however, there is no evidence to suggest that this is the case. Evidence suggests that acute stretching immediately before exercise can have a negative effect on performance due to the physiological changes seen in the muscle and the decreased ability to store elastic energy (Wilson et al, 2010). Therefore, static stretching can in fact have an undesirable effect on performance particularly that of endurance runners.

So, should we perform a warm-up prior to running?

It is suggested that the warm-up helps us to be mentally and physically ready for exercise, as well as warming up the muscles by increasing the circulation to the periphery. Since static stretches immediately prior to running may inhibit performance and possibly increase the risk of injury, it has been recommended to perform dynamic mobility exercises as an alternative. Dynamic mobility refers to controlled, repetitive sports-specific movements that mimic the way our muscles and connective tissues move during a run. Unlike static stretching there is no evidence to suggest that dynamic exercises immediately performed prior to running have a negative effect on performance; in fact, it might help us run faster! (Yamaguchi et al, 2015)

What dynamic mobility exercises should I include in my warm-up?

  • Walking lunges
  • Walking leg swings
  • Bum kicks
  • reps each side)
  • Do long-hold static stretches have a place?

Although long-hold static stretching is not recommended immediately prior to running it still has its benefits. Long-hold static stretching performed regularly over a minimum of 6 weeks can significantly improve our flexibility. Therefore if we have a restriction in movement around a joint as a consequence of a running-related injury, it is important that we try to regain this reduction in muscle length through static stretching and eccentric strengthening. Getting an improvement in muscle length does take time though, so it is important to be consistent with our exercises.

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