The following article was written for the Run Like Crazy website.
Hi “Run like LIke Crazy” Members,
Welcome to the first of many articles focusing on tips, advice and education all aimed at keeping you on the running trails and hopefully out of the treatment room. We will cover some common injuries, runners experience, dispel a few myths out there, hopefully spark some healthy debate, but most importantly share as much knowledge and experience with each other.
We are going to start out gently with something as simple and straightforward as:“STRETCHING!”
After much reading, consultation with other therapists and colleagues, elite level athletes and a few weekend warriors…..I have decided that stretching is not as simple and straightforward as I first thought. How long should you hold a stretch? Should I stretch before or after exercise? Is it better to stretch when warm? What is the best type of stretching, static Vs Ballistic??? The debate goes on and on. So I will try and outline a few simple tips and general information, and as always would love to hear your feedback on the information below. Please keep in mind, these are all generalised tips and advice and if you are experiencing any pain or discomfort be sure to seek medical advice. I am more than happy to answer any specific questions you may have, so please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
So.. where to begin?
Whenever I instruct my patients on stretching techniques we always make it clear that stretching should be about Frequency and NOT Intensity. That is, the more frequently you can stretch, the better your results. It is important to remember that when you are stretching, you should experience slight tension in the muscle, and NOT pain. Pushing harder will not deliver better results faster.
I also believe there is greater benefit from stretching a warm muscle as opposed to a cold one. Cold muscles are stiff and and do not have good blood supply. If you are someone who likes to stretch first thing in the morning, limber up a bit, have a walk around the house, get some blood moving around your body, take a warm shower, have your breakfast and then have a stretch.
Prior to racing or exercise, once again I promote the phrase “Limbering up” that is, one should participate in the activity you are about to partake in, at a decreased intensity. So, if you are about to run, warm up with a light walk and gradually increasing your pace. Other activities such as walking lunges, arm circles, leg swings are all great exercises to encourage an increase in blood flow to the muscles you are about to use. As I suggested before, start out slowly, gently increase your pace as your muscles become warm, and you work up a light sweat.
Static stretching is best left for after activity. As one exercises, micro trauma occurs to our muscles, leading to pain in the following days. Stretching after activity helps reduce this next day soreness, allowing you to focus on your next training session, rather than the pain of the previous one. Much of the research leans towards holding each stretch for approximately 30 seconds to maximise the benefit. Remember, you don’t need to be stretching only before and after exercise. Stretching in between sessions and on your rest days will improve your general flexibility over time.
Keep in mind stretching should not be treated like a chore, but rather an opportunity to check-in with your body. See what is tight, what needs assessment, has an injury or damage occurred, is this more than just training soreness? So switch on while you stretch, tune into your body and see what needs attention. Good stretching habits go a long way.
Stay healthy, train hard and enjoy your running.