Stretching your leg muscles before a big race sounds like a great idea, but in some cases it can cost you your win. Depending upon the type of stretching you do, you can end up running slower than if you did nothing at all to prepare. Don't weaken your legs by giving yourself the wrong warm-up.
In a study done at Louisiana State University, static stretching was found to be responsible for making sprinters slower. A static stretch is when your body remains still while you stretch. For instance, if you sit down and straighten one leg, bend over it and hold that position for 30 seconds, you are stretching your hamstring in a static stretch. Doing passive stretching like this takes away the strength in concentric muscle contractions. That lack of power effectively takes the wind out of your sails, and will slow your sprint down.
Dynamic stretching, however, can improve your sprint time. An example of a dynamic stretch for the quadriceps is butt-kickers. By doing the sort of high-kick jogs that bring your heels high enough to kick your rear, you are stretching out your quads while also keeping them in motion. Test results published in the "Journal of Sports and Conditioning Research" prove that dynamic stretching can improve performance in 20-meter sprints. But don't overdo it. These improvements were recorded after one to two sets of dynamic stretching. When sprinters did three sets of stretches, their speed diminished.
Static Stretching After Dynamic Stretching
Even after dynamic stretching, static stretching can still harm your performance. While you are waiting between races, or recovering between sprint exercises, do not do any static stretches. You might be tempted to pull back your legs to stretch out your quads, but resist the urge. During the LSU study, it was discovered that static stretching after dynamic stretching can still do you more harm than good. In fact, static stretching can even change your running style, making it similar to the running style of someone who has a limp.
Static stretching done on days when you are not running can improve your sprinting ability by increasing your flexibility. Flexibility is good for your power and speed. You can increase your muscle control and your range of motion by performing regular stretching exercises separate from your sprinting events. Avoid stretching in chilly environments or overstretching your muscles past the point of comfort, or you could cause an injury. Don't forget to stretch your upper body as well as your lower.
- Journal of Sports Sciences: Acute Effects of Passive Muscle Stretching on Sprint Performance
- The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: The Effect of Warm-Ups Incorporating Different Volumes of Dynamic Stretching on 10- and 20-m Sprint Performance in Highly Trained Male Athletes
- U.S. Sports Academy: The Sport Digest: Flexibility Program for Sprinters
Meredith Berg received her B.F.A. in directing from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. Now living in Los Angeles, she works as a film and television writer, comic-book editor and director of plays and films. In addition, she loves tackling paleo recipes, workout routines and DIY projects.