To stretch or not to stretch, that is the question…

I was talking to a client the other day and when he told me how often he was stretching I couldn’t quite believe it. In fact if he was stretching as frequently and for as long as he said he was before each run I am surprised he even had time to go out and plod the pavements! What’s more he is still stiff as a board and regularly pulls up with calf problems!

Stretch it out!

So the debate continues, “what does stretching before running actually achieve”? Contrary to the widely held view that stretching before exercise is important there still seems to be little evidence to support this. There have been dozens of studies and years of debate, but nobody really knows whether stretching helps, harms, or does anything in particular to aid flexibility, improve performance or reduce injury rates. Stretched muscle fibres can make them less stable in turn reducing your balance and reaction time hence making you more prone to injury. Yet most people remain convinced that stretching helps. I believe if your goal is to prevent injury then stretching alone probably wont be enough but warming up will definitely help. Using functional exercises that take you through ranges of movement that mimic your desired exercise will help to reduce the risk of injury.

Flexibility on the other hand has is different. I think it has become another area where some people are overdoing it. Now there can be no doubt that certain types of sports require you to be extremely flexible in order to do them, such as martial arts and gymnastics, but do runners need to be overly flexible? I know they need to be efficient and even though I’m no running coach flexibility doesn’t necessarily mean greater efficiency, does it? I mean if you take into account statistical variations (genetic pre-disposition) and the fact that we are all built differently. Just because one person responds really well to stretching it doesn’t necessarily mean that another will. I know people that have never stretched before or after exercise let alone developmentally and rather curiously guess what? They have never had an issues! Now I’m not saying that you should go out stop stretching immediately but I am saying if something in your programme is working for you then have an open mind to making some changes. If that means trying not doing it or changing the amount or even way you stretch then so be it. You just need to make sure you control how you do this by making small changes and monitoring the results closely.

In my experience people who do cyclic types of sports like running/triathlon etc train at those disciplines, stretch a little and that’s about it. Personally I believe there is much more mileage (no pun intended!) in looking at the bigger picture if you are hoping to improve. The people I have worked with that have been prepared to look at an all round cross training package to compliment their current regime have been the ones that have seen improvement. By adding in developmental stretching or yoga to a regime that already covers nutrition, functional movement exercises and regular massage/soft tissue work I believe we can expect better results!

I welcome your thoughts!

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