Saturday, May 18, 2013

To stretch or not to stretch?

Today's Workout:
1 hour power walk
1 hour massage by Jodie

As y’all may or may not know, I’ve been nursing a knee injury for an eternity about a month now, and although it’s progressively healing, I am now suffering pain and soreness in the calf muscle of the injured leg. This is most likely due to an over-compensation of my muscles when I engaged in physical activities. This is a common occurrence because the surrounding muscles near the injury involuntarily prevent the injury from getting worse so, as a result, the muscles work twice as hard (just my luck!).

Needless to say, I’ve had to back up from running and biking in order to rest my leg. During this time I’ve learned why stretching is so important. It has been determined that stretching before and after a run will reduce injuries, improve performance and avoid sore muscles. Whether this is true or not (there's mixed data on these facts), athletes have reported feeling better when they stretched because they felt warmed-up and more flexible.

For instance, stretching may improve blood flow and lubricate joints and muscles, which is why it helps to avoid injuries if you do it before a run. Flexibility is another added benefit of stretching. Research has shown that stretching can improve performance because your joints move more efficiently through an increased range of motion. Have you ever started a run without stretching and your body just feels awkward? That’s because your joints and muscles are not lubricated and warmed-up. Your chances of “pulling” a muscle increase because they are tight.

Stretching is not limited to just before and after a run. In my case, since I am already injured, stretching is also beneficial for me. Stretching will increase my blood flow and “wake up” my muscles. Massaging the muscle will also be beneficial for me since it’s an acute pain rather than a chronic one.

So what’s the best way to stretch?

Before a run: I usually perform dynamic stretches before a run. This type of stretching prepares the body for physical activity by enabling the body to be more flexible and smooth through a full range of motion. Studies have shown that dynamic stretches improves production and explosive power.

The stretches are held for about 3-10 seconds. The stretches include: walking lunges with and without a rotation, glute bridges, butt kicks, leg and arm swings, donkey kicks, Russian march, etc…
Leg swings
Butt kicks
Walking lunges
Donkey kicks
Glute bridges

After a run: I usually perform static stretches after a run (when I remember-I’m guilty!). Static stretching is a bit different because it relaxes your muscles and lengthens them. These stretches are more passive rather than explosive.

The stretches are held for about 10-30 seconds and repeated 4-6 times. The stretches include: shoulder stretch, tricep stretch, side bends, hamstring, quad, calf and ankle stretch, etc…
Shoulder stretch
Tricep stretch
Hamstring stretch
Ankle stretch

Do you stretch before and after a run?

I am grateful for the knowledge
that I have gained from my injury. 
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  1. In school we learned the pros and cons of pre-activity stretches. Most of the research showed stretching beforehand can lead to injury because you have loosened the muscles around your joints and there's less support. I do agree though that if you stretch before keep it dynamic. I always hold my post run stretches for at least 30 seconds.

    1. I definitely agree Brittany, dynamic stretches are a great way to start.

  2. I grew up dancing classical ballet, so stretching was a huge part of my life, but now as a runner I tend tomstretch much much less. I changed my mind about stretching after reading several articles by Steve Gangemi, who is an applied kinesiologist
    It was hard for me to wrap my brain around, but he explains how stretching can weaken muscles and prolong the healing of injuries ( he's also anti-ice!). He does believe in dynamic stretching and really encourages things like Trigger Point. I haven't really been stretching in over a year and I don't find that I'm any less flexible, but can't say if it's helped or not with injury prevention, since I've still had injuries! Anyway, it's all interesting :)

    1. There's a lot of mixed data out there. I guess we should do what works best for us =)

  3. Replies
    1. Thank you. And thanks for the stretching article!