Sunday, 30 November 2014

Stretching - before or after?

"Do you stretch BEFORE or AFTER a run?" is something I have asked other runners and have often pondered which is best.  It turns out there are different schools of thoughts on this and, arguably, it also applies to other sports or physical activities.

Stretching is all about pushing our bodies a little further than they normally go in day to day use.  Just like the (comical) runner above, we can stretch our limbs and core muscles.  A common view is to stretch BEFORE an activity like running.  It is believed this will help prevent injuries and run faster and easier.

A counter view is that muscles should be warmed up before they are stretched, otherwise injuries might occur through the actual stretching itself.

Another view is "why bother at all?" and this is also an entirely understandable question to ask.

All this can be quite confusing, especially for the newbie runner.  Newbies can often be seen doing the briefest of stretches - and I do mean brief as they last no more than 1 or 3 seconds - before they run or get onto a treadmill or cross trainer.  Also it's quite common to see such newbies doing simply one type of stretch and nothing else.

Why stretch?

Whether you are in the BEFORE or AFTER group, proper stretching does make you more supple and this can benefit runners who seem to be on the stiff side.  It is believed that being supple is less likely to lead to injuries and more able to handle technically demanding runs (i.e. cross country, fell running etc).  I know that is stiff label true for myself - I can be very rigid and stiff, not pliable at all.  Runners just seem to be like that, especially long distance runners getting on a bit.

Is limbering up the same?

Not quite but it does have the effect of warming the muscles and losing some of that stiffness.   This includes jogging a little, swaying around while standing still, perhaps the odd lunge.  Nothing too demanding.

What is going on with stretching?

Stretching is all about stretching: as simple as that.  Imagine you're making some bread and you have been needing the dough.  You can pull it and it stretches nicely (providing the mixture and method are right!) but look what happens when you pull it.  You will see the dough does stretch and then it has a number of tiny tears as it pulls apart.

This is similar to our bodies and our own muscles as we do create tiny microscopic tears.  When it heals, the body repairs those little tears and adapts to the new demands being placed upon it, thus muscles and their connecting tendons and ligaments develop that elasticity.

Achieving this elasticity takes time and required regular stretching; it doesn't happen over night.

How to stretch

Stretching is about pulling that leg, arm etc into the "stretched" position to the point it might hurt a little or be uncomfortable.  When I feel that I then just back off a little, relaxing the muscle a bit and then hold it there.  Normally I count to 15 - I would like to think I can count 15 seconds exactly but I doubt if I do so my stretch could be anywhere between 10 and 20 seconds.

I think it's really important to stop a stretch if it hurts.  There's a fine line between mildly
"Do you stretch BEFORE or AFTER a run?" is something I have asked other runners and have often pondered which is best.  It turns out there are different schools of thought on this and, arguably, it also applies to other sports or physical activities.

Stretching is all about pushing our bodies a little further than they normally go in day to day use.  Just like the (comical) runner above, we can stretch our limbs and core muscles.  A common view is to stretch BEFORE an activity like running.  It is believed this will help prevent injuries and run faster and easier.

A counter view is that muscles should be warmed up before they are stretched, otherwise injuries might occur through the actual stretching itself.

Another view is "why bother at all?" and this is also an entirely understandable question to ask.

All this can be quite confusing, especially for the newbie runner.  Newbies can often be seen doing the briefest of stretches - and I do mean brief as they last no more than 1 or 3 seconds - before they run or get onto a treadmill or cross trainer.  Also it's quite common to see such newbies doing simply one type of stretch and nothing else.  Some might find this comical to watch and say "ah aren't they sweet, so naive, so uncool, to think that stretching will do anything for them....".  That might be so but remember we all started somewhere and with good intentions we've all made mistakes like that.

What is going on with stretching?

Stretching is all about stretching: as simple as that.  Imagine you're making some bread and you have been needing the dough.  You can pull it and it stretches nicely (providing the mixture and method are right!) but look what happens when you pull it.  You will see the dough does stretch and then it has a number of tiny tears as it pulls apart.

This could be similar to our bodies and our own muscles as we do create tiny microscopic tears.  When it heals, the body repairs those little tears and adapts to the new demands being placed upon it, thus muscles and their connecting tendons and ligaments develop that elasticity.

Achieving this elasticity takes time and required regular stretching; it doesn't happen over night.

How to stretch

Stretching is about pulling that leg, arm etc into the "stretched" position to the point it might hurt a little or be uncomfortable.  When I feel that I then just back off a little, relaxing the muscle a bit and then hold it there.  Normally I count to 15 - I would like to think I can count 15 seconds exactly but I doubt if I do so my stretch could be anywhere between 10 and 20 seconds.

I think it's really important to stop a stretch if it hurts.  There's a fine line between allowing a small number of microscopic tears and stretches that yank things far too far.  Another thing to avoid is any jerky quick movements - this is a sure way to get injured.

So what do I prefer to do?

I definitely prefer to stretch after a run or cross training session.  I have tried it before and it simply doesn't work but if at a race, I do limber up.

Limbering up included a little jogging, wiggling around i.e. using muscles, getting the blood flowing and getting warmed up but definitely not stretching.

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