Have you ever decided to go for a run and to “warm-up” did a round of 30-second static stretching? Well STOP it!
We caught up with Michael Rizk, physiotherapist and owner of running clinic, iMove Physio, to understand more and get our facts right.
The reason we “warm-up” before we go for a run is to:
- increase heart and breathing rates
get blood flowing to the muscles
increase core temperature
prepare body and mind for activity
prevent injury to muscles which is more likely to occur when muscles are cold
Static stretching and the stretch reflex
There are two types of stretching: static and dynamic. A static stretch has very little movement – you hold the muscle in the same place for about 30 seconds. The main point of static stretching is to gradually lengthen out your muscles. The problem is you can overstretch. Besides overstretching causing pain, it can also result in decreased running performance, speed and contraction ability.
Our bodies have a stretch reflex. Your muscle fibres work like a rubber band stretching out and then snapping back. But if you stretch for thirty seconds the fibres become used to that position and stay there. Even though you now have a deeper range of motion, you don’t have strength and stability within that range of motion. You know where this is going … your muscles are stretched out and relaxed, you go for a run and boom – pain or injury!
“The research has shown that after static stretching you actually lose plyometric power,” Michael explains. “This is your body’s ability to spring or bound. Basically the elastic band effect of your muscles reduces. Therefore the best practice now is to do a very graded, dynamic warm-up before your run.”
A dynamic stretch has movement and is ideal to do before a run. A great example of this is Aussie hurdler, Michelle Denneke’s super cute pre-run dance at the Junior World Championships in Barcelona with jazz hands, swaying shoulders and foot kicks. And spoiler alert: she wins the race. But notice how none of the runners are stretching - even when they crouch down to the start line.
People can be genetically tight, or have specific tightness or pain. In this case dynamic stretching is an especially good idea before a run. “I believe if you have a mobility problem such as a really stiff ankle then you should stretch it before, because a normal functioning ankle will help you in the run,” Michael continues.
Be aware of your muscles’ range of movement
“Whenever research comes out it can get taken to the 'nth' degree,” Michael says. “The research says you shouldn’t hang out right at the end of your muscles’ range for one minute and then go straight to running.”
“I don't believe static stretching is the devil or you’re going to blow up your calf if you do. I actually still use it in my routine but lightly for 20 seconds and not right at the end of the range. Then I do a dynamic warm-up. The key here is it's not the last thing I do before taking off.”
“The other aspect is that it’s mentally ingrained in some people to static stretch and they feel wonderful after doing it. Again, it's okay to do it, just not at the end of your range,” Michael continues. “And don't hang there for a minute and then start running straightaway.”
Why do a cool-down walk and stretch?
Sometimes after exercise our legs might feel heavy, or we might experience burning sensations. This is because of a build-up of lactic acid. Lactic acid releases energy into the body but when there is too much of it, muscles have problems contracting. A cool-down walk helps to clear lactic acid, meaning less soreness and stiffness.
We stretch after a run to:
- increase blood flow to the muscles
create a better range of movement/improve flexibility
relax muscles and return them to original length
Remember to only stretch to the point of mild discomfort but not pain. And take slow and steady breaths.
Michael’s Recommended Dynamic Stretch