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How to Stretch Muscles Properly to Prevent Injury

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • A light warm-up and using dynamic techniques to stretch the muscles significantly helps increase the efficiency of an exercise session. Additionally, proper stretching offers better long-term benefits to the body when compared with people who only hold a static stretch briefly, or those who do not undertake any form of warm up whatsoever.
  • In cases where a muscle is already tight, warming up by holding a stretch for a certain amount of time to relax the muscle before beginning a run can significantly reduce the risk of injury.

 

Most of you have probably heard recommendations that we should warm up and stretch our muscles to prevent an injury, right? I myself belong to a group of people who believe in this idea and act according to it, although I don’t always stretch for the same amount of time. Some days, I want to get out and play a sport as soon as possible, so I stretch for a short amount of time, whereas on other days, I’ll have plenty of time to spare and I’ll stretch for about half an hour before commencing exercise.

However, are you aware that there is a huge amount of research out there concluding that stretching muscles before exercise does not help reduce injury in any way whatsoever? Before we go any further, let’s be clear that we understand the type of stretching which these research pieces are referring to, namely stretching while standing still, or static stretching, as it is more commonly known.

In 2004, a certain Dr. Stephen B. Thacker gathered data from 361 individual research pieces on the topic of stretching. He concluded that there was no evidence to support the idea that stretching before exercise reduces injury. Furthermore, another large body of research released in 2008 came to the same conclusion.

Does this mean that we don’t need to stretch or warm up at all before playing sports?

Unfortunately, that is not quite the case, because the aim of warming up is to prepare the body for exercise and ensure that muscles are ready for use. Moreover, there are many more research pieces which show that a light warm up alongside stretching the muscles using dynamic stretching techniques can help to significantly increase exercise efficiency. And that the long-term benefits to the body of people who stretch in this way far outweigh those gained by people who only stretch briefly, or those who don’t carry out any form of warming up whatsoever.

Now, how can we apply such large amounts of data and information to the way we run?

Please allow me to recommend a method developed by Prof. Dr. Jason Winchester from Louisiana State University, who applied the data to running in the following ways – although I must mention that there is currently no research to back up this method. It is merely a routine which I think is easily applicable and time-efficient:

  1. Begin by jogging slowly for at least five minutes.
  2. Stretch your muscles using the following dynamic stretching techniques while still jogging:
    • High knees
    • Heel kicks or butt kicks
    • Walking lunges
    • Skipping
  3. Accelerate over a short distance, around 2-3 times.
  4. After that, begin running at the distance and speed which you planned to achieve.

Nevertheless, static stretching can still be of benefit to runners due to the fact that some running injuries are caused by repeated strain on a certain area of muscle, which leads to bruising. Hence, reducing strain and bruising is seen as an effective form of injury prevention. For people who are already suffering from muscle tightness, static stretching to relax muscle tightness before running can be of help in terms of reducing injury risk. Static stretching also has some other benefits, which I will have to come back to and tell you about another day. In the meantime, I hope you all stay injury-free while running.

Run Hard and Be Nice to People

Credit: Fanpage – Learn’n’Run


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