I thought that I would review stretching and try to give a simple outline to a complicated issue.
The problem is that they are various forms of stretching and each have pros and cons. There are also so many questions surrounding stretching that it leaves us confused and we end up not stretching at all. The main myth surrounding stretching is that all types of stretches are good for you and will make you run further or jump higher. I will try to answer the 6 most commonly asked questions on stretching. Just to say that I am discussing stretching in general not stretching as part of a rehabilitation program as this is a whole separate area.
IS STRETCHING GOOD FOR YOU?
The positive news around stretching is that dynamic stretches increase body temperature, produce greater neural activation and increases range of motion of certain joints, (Obradovic et al., 2014). Dynamic stretches are effective in preventing injury as these stretches are similar to movements that the body does during exercise, (Faigenbaum et al., 2005). Other benefits of dynamic stretches are that they can increase performance and increase range of motion in both the short and long term, (Curry et al., 2009, Herman and Smith, 2008).
However when it comes to static stretches there are less benefits to them. A study by Chan et al., (2001) stated that an 8 week static stretching program does increase muscle length, however this increase of length is more often down to in a person getting used to the stretches. Not the muscles having an improvement in length, (Ben and Harvey, 2010).
Other common conceptions around stretching is disproved by various research studies. Herbert et al., (2011) suggests that stretching does not have any impact on reducing delayed onset muscle soreness. Static stretches before exercise makes muscles relax and this has an adverse effect muscle strength, (McHugh and Cosgrave, 2010). Kristler et al., (2010) found that static stretches after a warm up has a negative impact on performance.
WHAT TYPE OF STRETCHING SHOULD I DO?
The best stretching to do before exercise is movements that mimic the activity that you are about to do. As this is the most effective way to prevent injury, (Faigenbaum et al., 2005). So for instance if you were a footballer you would do movements such as criss cross legs and jumps as you will be doing these during the game. Also you should perform some dynamic stretches such as lunges as these have been found to increase power and running performance, (Hough et al., 2009).
HOW LONG SHOULD YOU STRETCH FOR?
The evidence all support that stretches should be held for 15-30 seconds, (American College of Sports Medicine) this is to allow for there to become a change in the movements at the joints and allow for an increase in flexibility, (Ayala et al, 2010, Brandy and Irion, 1994). Each stretch should be repeated 2-4 times as research has shown that there is more increase in muscle length with more repetitions, (Taylor et al, 1990).
WILL STRETCHING MAKE ME RUN FASTER?
Well a study by Pearce et al., (2009) found that performing dynamic stretching has been shown to increase power and running performance. As mentioned above dynamic stretching increase body temperature/muscle temperature which you need to perform well. We all know that after the 1st mile of a run we all feel better and run faster, dynamic stretches just kick start that process that happens in the 1st mile. Yet this is criticised by Dalrymple et al., (2010) and Torres et al., (2008) who both state that performance is not improved by static or dynamic stretches.
SHOULD I STRETCH BEFORE EXERCISE?
The answer to this question depends on what type of stretches you do. If we talk about static stretching then no as static stretching leads to muscles becoming relaxed which leads to a loss of strength , (McHugh and Cosgrave, 2010). Studies have also shown that static stretches before running will make you run slower. Hough et al., (2009) and Kristler et al., (2010) found that Static stretches before exercise is detrimental to performance in jumping and running.
However when looking in to performing dynamic stretches before exercise, the research shows that dynamic stretches before exercise is not associated with a loss in strength or power. They actually increase power, jumping and running performance, (Hough et al, 2009, Pearce et al., 2009). Dynamic work before exercise has shown to reduce the risk of muscular injuries and it does not have a negative affect on athletic performance, (Behm et al, 2015).
Dynamic stretches include leg swings, forward –backwards, side-side (20 each leg), walking lunges (10 each leg), arm circles, (10 each arm) and walking high knees and walking butt kicks, (20 each leg).
WHAT ABOUT STRETCHING AFTER EXERCISE?
A post exercise stretching protocol that gave subjects a 2% reduction in muscle soreness for as long as 72 hours post exercise. The stretches were repeated 4 times and held for between 30 and 120 seconds each, (Andersen,2005). These findings are supported by Torres et al, (2014) who found that regular stretching in the days after hard exercise may have a positive effect on muscle soreness. Even though stretching immediately after exercise did not stop muscle damage.
Like anything you need perform any stretches regularly, every day and hold the stretch for a period of time. It is also beneficial to get in to the habit of performing dynamic stretches before exercise and you will see a positive impact on your running. If stretching after exercise is not for you then try some movements from GMB fitness or use a foam roller.