Stretching – Part 3
So as previously mentioned, I often don’t advise a great deal of static stretching, especially as part of a warm up, but that doesn’t mean that static stretching doesn’t have value. I think it can have a role as part of your weekly routine, alongside dynamic warm up drills, strength training, running drills (skill training) and obviously your running training and competition.
Reported benefits of stretching include:
There is always ongoing debate in medical research as to whether there is good evidence that stretching can achieve these things.
What I would say is that if stretching is part of your routine and you find it beneficial then absolutely carry on.
I would add that if you find yourself constantly stretching or feeling the need to stretch then perhaps it is time to take a step back and consider why the muscle is tight or you perceive it to be tight in the first place.
It is very unusual for a muscle to become physically shorter unless it has been immobilised for a period of time – such as calf shortening in a plaster cast after breaking an ankle – and therefore most muscles feel tight or have increased tone or tension for one of four reasons:
They are protecting an injured joint/bone
They are protecting a sensitive nerve
Other local muscles that usually work together to produce a movement are weak
The muscle itself is weak
Reasons 3 and 4 are much more common. A good example I can give of this is the hamstrings, people often report a lot of tightness here and spend a lot of time stretching the hamstrings with little sustained benefit. Often strengthening the hamstrings through their range and ensuring good neural mobility is much more effective on both the feeling of tightness and the flexibility or compliance of the muscle.
Now you could argue that sitting all day in an office is similar to being immobilised in a cast and I would to an extent agree. The classic areas office workers feel the need to stretch are the hamstrings and hip flexors, but, these muscles are often short AND weak when testing so I would want to focus on both stretching and strengthening in these key areas.
In summary, stretching can definitely have a role as part of a program. Strengthening may be more valuable and help with flexibility, injury prevention and performance in the long term. If you currently stretch and find it beneficial then continue to do so but consider why you feel the need to stretch if you aren’t feeling the benefit.
In terms of what stretches to do and how long to hold them for, this is very individual to the person, but as a general guide I usually get runners to focus on hip flexors, hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, gluteals and groin areas. Keep the stretch nice and relaxed, breathe throughout, and hold for 30 to 60 seconds, it should not be painful.
The pictures on this blog post show one technique for stretching each of those areas.
As always, hope you have this useful and any feedback or questions greatly appreciated.