By: Amy Watson ATC, PES
DMC Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan
I’ll admit it. I’ve walked out the door and just started running. As an athletic trainer, I should know better. And, I will admit that I was much stiffer during and after those runs because of it. When I take the time to do some warm up stretching, that first 1-2 miles are much easier and more comfortable.
Stretching allows the body to move through its full range of motion (ROM) at the joint. Ideally, for any athlete they need to be able to access their full ROM for optimal performance.
There are many ways you can stretch. Static stretching is considered the old tried and true 30-60 second hold, while feeling the discomfort of the stretch. The joint is passively moved to the end range of motion. Dynamic stretching is using muscle contraction, movement, and momentum through the ROM while not going into the full end ranges.
There is a lot of controversy out there in the timing and type of stretching to perform prior to activity to achieve this optimal ROM for athletic performance. There are a few studies that do show an increase in ROM after static stretching but a decrease in torque and force which was seen in decreased jump performance and sprint speed. This decrease is still seen at a minimum of 10 minutes after the stretch in these studies. The effect of the ROM gain did not last long either. Most of these studies used a calf stretch to the point of irritation. After the 10 minutes, performance ability did return. That being said, other studies found that static stretching followed by sport specific drills did not decrease jumping or sprint times.
Dynamic stretching studies found that some small ROM gains were made, and no significant negative effects were observed in performance tests.
So, the truth seems to lie somewhere in the middle. We do need good ROM for performance. It does not seem to be ideal prior to activity to stretch statically. Therefore, stretching at another time of day would be preferred to work on that ROM. Dynamic stretching would be the warm-up of choice. Again these dynamic stretches are done using movement and can be more sport specific. They help increase heart rate, body temp, and increase elasticity in muscles. This helps increase flexibility, while decreasing risk of injury and improving sport readiness and performance. That is also most likely why the study showing that static stretch followed by sport specific drills did not show the impairments of static stretching alone.
Again, dynamic stretching uses movement. Multidirectional leg swings, inchworms, scorpions, iron cross, and even lunges are a few of many stretches that would be considered dynamic stretching. Use as much motion as you can without excessive tension.
Get started with a few good minutes of stretching and then head out for a great run!
Amy Watson is a certified athletic trainer and an avid runner with many marathons under her belt. To make an appointment with a physician or therapist that specializes in running injuries at the Detroit Medical Center and Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan, call 313-910-9328.