It's been an accepted theory that runners should stretch before a run. The wisdom behind the stretching premise is that stretching out the muscles before working them reduces injury. Research was conducted to determine whether pre-workout stretching is beneficial. It turns out that the usefulness of stretching in reducing the chance of injury actually depends on the type of stretching you do. But can stretching before a race help you to run faster?
Static Versus Dynamic
The two types of stretching most often used by athletes are static and dynamic. With static stretching, there is little movement. You're essentially reaching for a point, stretching a muscle and holding it before moving to another muscle. In dynamic stretching, you're actively progressing through a movement as you stretch. In her article on Runner's World website, Nikki Kimball reports that static stretching done before exercise has actually been found to be detrimental to performance. Additionally, in a study published on the National Institutes of Health, researchers compared the effects of static stretching to dynamic stretching and found that subjects who performed dynamic stretching before playing soccer were significantly faster.
Why Dynamic Works
According to Stretching World, dynamic stretching benefits athletes in several ways. First, it wakes up the muscles. Runner's World agrees, pointing out that when you do a static stretch, you're relaxing your muscles, essentially putting them to sleep. But you don't want to turn your muscles off before a workout. You want to perform dynamic stretches to prepare them for the workout that is to come. Dynamic stretching also improves balance and strength, and prepares your body for the specific sport you are about to engage in.
Incorporating Stretching Into Your Workout
The benefits of dynamic stretching don't necessarily outweigh the benefits of static stretching. It all depends on when you do each type. In an article for Elite Soccer Conditioning, Taylor Tollison recommends a performance program that starts off with static stretching and then dynamic stretching before the workout, such as a soccer game or a race, then a cool down of static stretching only. By following a routine of dynamic stretching before exercise followed by static stretching, your muscles are properly primed for activity and then relaxed afterward.
Stretches for Runners
Runner's World recommends a warm-up for runners that includes leg lifts, butt kicks and walking lunges. Each of these stretches incorporates leg movement to loosen muscles, expand range of motion, and increase heart rate and blood flow. It is recommended that you start slow when beginning a dynamic stretching routine so you can concentrate on your form. As you become confident with your execution of the stretching, you can increase the speed.
- Running Times: Dynamic Stretching Better Before Training and Racing; Mackenzie Lobby
- Elite Soccer Conditioning: Dynamic Stretching vs. Static Stretching; Taylor Tollison
- Runner's World: A Dynamic Routine; Nikki Kimball
- Stretching World: Dynamic Stretching Routines and Tips; Taylor Tollison
- National Institutes of Health: An Investigation Into the Effects of Different Warm-up Modalities on Specific Motor Skills Related to Soccer Performance.
- Core Performance: Beginner's Guide to Movement Prep
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