Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Should You Stretch Before A Run?

Today's NY Times weighs in on the issue, reporting the results of a recent USA Track & Field study involving 1,600 runners - stretchers and non-stretchers alike;

"Predictably, since running, as a sport, has a high injury rate, quite a few became injured during the (study period.) About 16 percent of the group that didn’t stretch were hobbled badly enough to miss training for at least three days (the researchers’ definition of a running injury), while about 16 percent of the group that did stretch were laid up for the same amount of time. The percentages, in other words, were virtually identical. Static stretching had proved to be a wash in terms of protecting against injury. It “neither prevented nor induced injury when compared with not stretching before running,” the study’s authors concluded"
Think stretching will make you run faster or jump higher? Think again. Stretching doesn't appear to improve your athletic performance at all and may, in fact, hinder it;
"The bulk of the available science strongly suggests that static stretching before a workout not only does not prevent overuse injuries but also may actually hinder athletic performance. “There is a very important neurological effect of stretching,” said Ross Tucker, a physiologist in South Africa and co-author of the Web siteThe Science of Sport. “There is a reflex that prevents the muscle from being stretched too much,” which is activated by static stretching, inducing the muscle to become, in effect, tighter in self-protection. Past studies have found that athletes’ vertical jump is lower after a bout of static stretching than with no stretching at all. They can’t generate as much power."
It's a good lesson in how conventional wisdom can be unconventionally wrong.

So what to do? Well, I stretch (and have added yoga to my workout routine) but not for the usual reasons - injury prevention, performance improvement, etc. Instead, I'm stretching to address some clear issues with posture and muscle imbalances.

Example: one day I noticed that I carry my right shoulder higher than the left, apparently the residual effect of long days at a desk and poor workspace ergonomics. Not a big problem in the low-distance, day-to-day world.

But after riding 120 miles in the aero position, right shoulder subtly higher than the left, all those minor imbalances become shooting, literal pains in the butt. Sessions with coaches, yoga instructors and physical therapists taught me specific stretches to address those imbalance issues, and now I ride and run blissfully pain-free.

Would I stretch if I didn't have those issues? Nah, I'm just too lazy. But now, thanks to the NY Times, I'm OK with that.

1 comment:

krystyna47 said...

Ah!! It seems my laziness has paid off!!