Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Stretching Debate


Today's Workout: Rest


While I tackled the debate of how far long runs should be when training for a marathon earlier this week, now I want to circle back to another, seemingly unending, running debate: To stretch or not to stretch.

People have gone back and forth on this issue, it seems like, forever. I have debated it with coaches, teammates, and other runners, and it seems like everyone has their own take. My typical perspective goes a little something like this:

Flexibility is mostly genetic, that is you are born flexible or you are born tight. Stretching is the process of trying to lengthen muscle and soft tissue to increase flexibility. I was born on the tighter side of the flexibility spectrum, so doing the splits were never in my quiver of available party tricks (I'm looking at you, Kyle Richards). Thus, I did not choose ballet or other flexibility required sports.

Running only requires that you can move your legs in the functional range, so if you can run comfortably and without injury, there is no need to stretch prior to activity. There are many reasons given for stretching; most are “mythical.” Stretching does not prevent injury or improve performance. However, warm up activities do prevent injury and improve performance, so time is best spent warming up the muscles rather than stretching before activity. Another measure that is used in injury prevention research is stability- the ability to maintain position in the best mechanical advantage. Flexibility beyond the range needed to perform an activity moves you away from stability and can lead to injury so there is little reason to be over stretched and loose. This is especially true for the back, which depends upon stability to maintain proper anatomic position for optimum injury free function.

My typical warm up for a training run is jogging about 30 sec-full minute slower than my ideal workout pace for at least 5 minutes (picking up speed as I go). Before races I will typically jog for 10 minutes (again about a minute slower or more than race pace), followed by some accelerating strides. Before weight training I try to do some light jogging or other cross training (elliptical, bike, etc.)

If I do stretch, it is after a run/workout. I'll share my favorite stretches tomorrow.

Now, please don't go swearing off stretching and cite me as your source. Do research of your own, see what works for your body, and always always always listen to your body.

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