FIX PHYSIOTHERAPIST JEAN TAKES YOU THROUGH RUNNING AND STRETCHING
*Stretching reduces your risk of injury and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) while improving your performance and recovery.
Stretching pre-run does not reduce your risk of injury and may even increase it.
Stretching pre- or post-run has no impact on DOMS or post-run recovery.
Stretching performed pre-run has a negative influence on speed and endurance, however regular stretching performed in separate sessions appears to improve your overall performance.
Pre- or post-run stretching in the form of static holds, dynamic ballistic movements, PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) have been an integral part of running programs due to the trends set by health professionals and coaches and supported by questionable scientific studies.
The following paragraphs will address the most common myths surrounding stretching and physical activity with specific reference to running.
STRETCHING AND INJURY PREVENTION
The cause of injuries is multi-factorial. There is some evidence which supports muscle tightness and joint range of motion restrictions as risk factors for injury (Witvrouw et al 2001) however this does not automatically equate to stretching as a direct method of prevention.
Stretching pre-run does not reduce your risk of injury and may actually increase it. When a muscle is held in excessive range temporarily, its tolerance to stretch decreases as does its protection mechanisms against elongation. Therefore, if you hold a static hamstring stretch before you go for a sprint, your body’s natural protective reflex mechanism is dampened, thereby increasing the risk of a hamstring strain. On a larger scale again, three recent systematic reviews have similarly concluded that static stretches are proven to be not beneficial for sports injury prevention (Thacker et al 2004, Hart 2005, Lauerson et al 2014).
However, there is significant evidence that regular stretching performed separate to your runs, has a positive influence on the prevention of injuries by increasing your flexibility for the functional demands of running. Your stretching program should focus on large muscle groups such as hip flexors, gluteals and hamstrings. Stretching calves is not recommended as a certain level of calf stiffness is actually desirable in runners to decrease the muscular work of the gastrocnemius (calf) muscles and increase their springback and economic efficiency.
STRETCHING AND DOMS
Stretching does not decrease the occurrence of DOMS as concluded by a 2011 Cochrane Review. When that next day’s stiffness happens, it’s a sign that your body is not adapted to the mechanical stress it has undergone. So the best way to avoid DOMS? You guessed it: Adaptation to mechanical stress via a warm up pre-run and a progressive running program.
STRETCHING AND PERFORMANCE
Stretching pre-run is commonly performed during a warm with the belief that it will improve athletic performance, however this is not the case. A recent study on college sprinters showed that pre-run stretching significantly increased their 40m sprint time thus decreasing their performance (Winchester et al 2008). Several other studies support this, citing specific negative influence on speed, strength, impulsion and endurance.
The good news is that stretching performed at a distance from your run has a positive effect on speed, strength and impulsion.
Other options for improving performance are functional warm-ups, strength and endurance training.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Our bodies are a reflection of our behaviour and no two people are the same. An office worker who sits for seven hours a day will have tighter hip flexors and poorer flexibility compared to a yoga instructor. If both of these people choose to run on a regular basis, different preferences will be given for flexibility.
To summarize, a functional dynamic warm-up plus a light jog should be performed pre-run with some proximal large muscle group stretches performed either at the end or at a separate time of the day. My stretching format of choice is Yoga, particularly downward dogs and warrior poses, can’t get enough!
See what works for you and as always, if you notice any pain during stretching or a significant restriction in range of motion, consult one of our Physiotherapists or Osteopaths at Fix for a detailed assessment.
*In this article, unless otherwise specified the term “stretching” refers to static stretches where an end of range position is held.
References: “New Trends in the Prevention of Running Injuries” – Blaise Dubois BScPT, The Running Clinic