If you are like me, you probably had a coach, PT teacher or fitness instructor that told you to ALWAYS stretch before sports. The reason being it “loosened” your muscles in preparation for activity and prevented injury. Truth is, none of that is supported by science…
If you keep up to date with this topic, you’ve probably heard that STATIC stretching before activity is not recommended. In a static stretch, the muscle is held in its elongated position for 15-30 seconds. This is what most coaches and trainers had us doing before sport. What we know now is that static stretching actually reduces performance. Some studies even showed that static stretching reduced the elasticity and electrical activity of muscles.
The easiest way of understanding this is if you consider how we get rid of a cramp. Cramps are usually caused by “hyper” excited muscles going into a state of uncontrolled contraction, and by stretching out the cramp, your muscle relaxes. In layman’s terms, the muscle “calms down” through stretching, so why would you want to calm the muscle down just before a race or event?
Then DYNAMIC stretching became the new buzz word in the field. With dynamic stretching, the muscle being stretched is actively lengthened through a movement, and the end position is not held. For example, a dynamic stretch of the quadriceps (front thigh muscle) is to kick your bum with your heel.
So what evidence do we have for dynamic stretching? Well at present most studies are poor quality, but they seem to suggest that dynamic stretching is beneficial, however with this type of stretch, we cannot distinguish the effect of muscle warm up versus muscle stretching, so the jury is still out on this one.
According to some research, runners who stretched prior to running had poor economy and reduced performance. Basically the non-stretchers used less energy during the same run and had better finishing times compared to the group that stretched!
Finally, should one stretch after an event? Does it improve recovery, prevent injury and reduce muscle soreness? At the moment, researchers suggest STATIC stretching post-event to lengthen the muscle and reduce the risk of lower limb injury. So, instead of having a nice group chat at the end of training, take your stretching a bit more seriously and it will improve flexibility and reduce your chance of injury. As for muscle soreness, well apparently there is no scientifically proven benefit from stretching.
So what should you do?
To sum-up, if you are already stretching before an event, consider changing to some dynamic stretches. Work on your static stretching after the event, and if you are trying to lengthen a muscle (say you have tight hamstrings), then it is vitally important to stretch them through static stretches 2-3 times per day until you have regained normal muscle length. If you need some advice or assistance with these stretches, then pop in to your nearest PhysioPRO branch and we will gladly show you how.
Look out for my next article on warming up before exercise.
BY: Riccardo Vaccaro