Recent research has raised questions about the value of stretching. For instance, athletes who stretched before 100m sprint or maximal jump testing actually performed worse than if they performed warm up drills or didn’t stretch at all prior to the testing.
The majority of distance runners aren’t testing our vertical leap or our 100m times. Personally, I would be downright embarrassed to see my results.
These studies do highlight the benefit of performing warm up drills. The most valuable warm-up drills for runners include: easy running, cycling, cross-overs (sideways jogging with a cross over pattern of the feet), heel walking, skipping and shallow lunges.
While stretching prior to competition may not have a beneficial effect, regular stretching does appear to improve strength, jump height and running speed. Stretching for 15 to 30 seconds increases flexibility as much as stretches held for a longer time. Improved flexibility initially lasts approximately 90 minutes. However, if stretching is performed 3 to 5 days per week the gains may last for several weeks.
Vinyasa Yoga For Runners is a 30 minute routine with sequences selected to stretch every muscle used while running. If you need some help being consistent or want a specifically designed program check this DVD out.
Gently stretching an injured area, as well as other tight muscles, can accelerate recovery from an injury. If you are injured, try to stretch at least twice per day.When stretching the injured area be gentle and only hold the stretch for five to ten seconds and repeat five times. To improve the flexibility of a tight muscle, hold the stretch for 15 to 30 and repeat three times.
The DVD The Injured Runner – A Balanced Solution contains a stretching section with 26 different stretches you can choose from.
Stretching has also been advocated to prevent injuries. While many individuals have made this observation, so far the research has not been able to verify it. One factor that does clearly reduce your risk of injury is to maintain a higher level of cardiovascular fitness throughout training, during the off-season, and when you’re recovering from an injury. In one study assessing basic trainees, those who were least fit were fourteen times more likely to sustain an injury than there more fit counterparts.
Interestingly, three studies have found that the most efficient runners (fastest) were the least flexible. The thought being that less flexible runners had a greater amount of elastic recoil and hence require less energy to propel forward.
Many of us have experienced muscle soreness after a harder run or race. Several strategies have been studied to determine the most effective method to reduce the soreness. Stretching actually has less research to support its value than any other method including: massage, acupuncture, Tylenol, anti-inflammatories, diathermy (a physical therapy heating treatment that is also used in horse racing) and electrical muscular stimulation.
Before making changes to your stretching program (or lack thereof) it is important to realize that the research on stretching is limited. There are many factors that affect running performance and injury occurrence that are difficult to assess in a study. If you have had success with your current stretching program, stick with it!
- Maintain cardiovascular fitness to reduce your risk of future injury.
- Perform warm up activities prior to running.
- Genlty stretch an injured area twice per day. Hold the stretch for 5 seconds and repeat five to ten times.
- Slow stretches held for 15 to 30 seconds may be more effective at improving flexibility.
- Regular stretching may improve: strength, jump height and running speed.
- Some tightness (especially the hip flexors) may actually improve your running economy.
Bryan Whitesides MPT, OCS
This article may be reproduced with appropriate reference.