Stretching has been hotly debated in recent years. There is no evidence that static stretching prevents injury or improves performance, experts now say. In fact there’s some evidence that it can hurt. When it comes to staying injury-free, functional range of motion is more important than flexibility.
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. 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. Dynamic warm up activities, utilizing the muscles to be challenged in your work out or competition, will improve your performance and give you the most benefit for your time. Sprint time is faster, agility measures are better, and of greatest significance, running economy is better. 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.
Yet you still may remember your old coach making you stretch before xc or track practice and think to yourself, “well I did it then, shouldn’t I do it now?” Just remember that stretching isn’t “bad” but remember what you are stretching for. The only real danger in stretching is stretching past your functional range of motion. Remember, your legs extend a certain distance with your stride and your feet kick up a certain distance while you run, you shouldn’t stretch too much past that range of motion. If you are going to stretch try doing a light warm up first… you may find that you no longer need to stretch.
Stretching afterwards can be a good way of moving lactic acid from settling, but still a nice cool down is much better for you.
Until next time. Lace up and get out there!
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