The great stretch debate has been going on for several years now with lots of conflicting views leaving the average weekend athlete confused and unsure what to do. It’s a question I get asked a lot as a physio.
“Should I stretch before or after exercise and what type of stretching should I do”?
This is a quick and simple guide into the benefits of stretching for warming up and cooling down during your half marathon training. At this point it’s probably worth mentioning that there is no one size fits all plan, every individual is different and because of the conflicting evidence on this subject this post is partly based on research and personal experience as a runner and physio.
A study by Simic et al (2012) concluded that static stretching as a sole activity during a warm up routine should generally be avoided, as it was found to reduce power, strength and explosive performance. However, the negative effects were only short term and generally returned to normal after 5 to 10 minutes, these negative effects were also unlikely to occur if the stretch was kept under 45 seconds.
Behm et al (2011) documented that dynamic stretching either has no effect on performance or may improve performance especially when the stretching duration is prolonged. However, the study also went on to say that static stretching used in a separate training session could actually improve range of movement and health.
Confused? Join the club.
Behm et al concluded that:
“Generally, a warm-up to minimize impairments and enhance performance should be composed of a submaximal intensity aerobic activity followed by large amplitude dynamic stretching and then completed with sport-specific dynamic activities. Sports that necessitate a high degree of static flexibility should use short duration static stretches with lower intensity stretches in a trained population to minimize the possibilities of impairments”.
In other words if you’re doing an activity that uses long drawn out movements such as martial arts or ballet then static stretches may be useful. However, if you’re a runner then short low intensity aerobic exercise, followed by dynamic stretches and finished off with a few running specific dynamic exercises is likely to be more important.
In my opinion stretching is very much a personal thing, I tend to spend 10 to 15 minutes warming up with a combination of light aerobic work followed by dynamic stretches and sports specific exercises. When it comes to static stretches this is very much dependent on how much time I’ve already had away from the wife and kids, If I can get away with it I might spend 5 minutes doing short duration (under 45 seconds) static stretches on all the major lower limb muscle groups.
So to conclude you can find lots of conflicting views and counter arguments for all types of stretches, if you want my advice do what feels good for you but don’t spend all your non-running time stretching! In my opinion a good balance between warm up, running, cool downs and strength work is the winning formula.
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