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Training & advice

Now that's stretching it!

Flexibility is arguably the most neglected fitness component in most runner's training programmes. Why is it that stretching gets so neglected? I guess it's not as sexy as speed or strength work but, ignore it at your peril for, stretching can help you run more efficiently and may help to keep you injury free.

The other problem with flexibility is that there is so much confusion as to what is right and wrong and it would appear that recent research has added to the confusion. It wasn't that long ago that you would see runners stretching in a static position (without moving) before running and then research came out that said that this can cause more problems than it alleviates. Static stretching was banished to post exercise (to be replaced by dynamic stretching) and the belief was that if you stretch after exercise you will avoid the dreaded DOMS. However, there has been research that has also questioned that! Our expert physiotherapist, Andy Byrne responded to that research and reminded us of the danger of taking research at face value without looking at all the facts. He reminds us of why we should stick to our stretching routines and not abandon them.

If you don't already include stretching as part of your training programme but have realised that you will have a healthier and happier running life with it, the table below should explain when and how you should stretch as well as the type of stretch it should be.

  Before running as part of warm up After running as part of cool down Separate session
Type of stretch dynamic static static
Number of seconds to hold the stretch 1-2 10 - 15 30+
Purpose prepare the muscles by stretching to the point needed for running Realign the muscle fibres to how they were pre-run Increase range of motion and flexibility

 

Dynamic stretching is stretching the muscles whilst on the move. Activities such as high knee skipping and lunges will prepare you for running by stretching the muscles dynamically. They should only be held for around 2 - 3 seconds. Most stretching exercises that you perform statically can be performed dynamically with a bit of imagination but you should not bounce as you stretch but rather incorporate the stretch into some forward, backward or sideward movement.

Static stretching is where you hold the stretch. If you have been injured and been shown some specific stretches by a physiotherapist you may have been told to hold the stretch for 30 seconds or longer. By doing this you encourage the muscle fibres to accept the stretch and so increase the length of the muscle and improve range of movement. However, you often experience some resistance by the muscle during the 30 seconds and then it accepts the stretch and relaxes into it. If you have done a training session or run your muscles will be tired and so this is not the best time to push the stretch and hold it for a long time. All you really need to do post-run is stretch gently for around 10 seconds to realign the muscle fibres. You will be in a better state both mentally and physically to stretch for 30 seconds if you do it as a separate session:somewhere warm and where you can relax completely.