A US study has concluded that pre-exercise stretching neither increases nor decreases the risk of injury for runners. Those studying Certificate III in Fitness will learn more about this subject.
The study, led by Daniel Pereles, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon from Montgomery Orthopedics in Washington, DC compared a group of runners who stretched with a group that didn’t.
The stretch group of 1,366 runners who ran at least 16km each week were assigned a series of stretches to the quadriceps, hamstrings, and gastrocnemius/soleus muscles, which were performed just prior to running. The control group of 1,363 runners did no pre-exercise stretching.
No correlation was found between stretching and either preventing or causing injury, suggesting that if injury occurs, it does so because of other reasons, namely; a history of injury; higher BMI (body mass index); or suddenly switching pre-running stretch routine (i.e. those who usually stretched pre-exercise stopping stretching for the study duration, and vice versa). This last reason was interesting as it suggests that the sudden change of routine has more of an impact than the actual routine itself.
Pereles said, “As a runner myself, I thought stretching before a run would help to prevent injury. However, we found that the risk for injury was the same for men and women, whether or not they were high or low mileage runners, and across all age groups. But, the more mileage run or the heavier and older the runner was, the more likely he or she was to get injured, and previous injury within four months predisposed to even further injury.”
Running injuries can occur if you start out too hard and fast when your body is not properly warmed up. They can also occur as a result of overuse when repeating the same, sometimes functionally incorrect, movement over and over for long distances. 70% of recreational and competitive runners in Australia sustain an injury from running in any given 12 month period.
To avoid running injuries, here are a few tips to consider:
Although static stretching preceding a run may not prevent injury, it is still important to warm up before running.
A good warm up helps prepare connective tissues, enhances blood flow to muscles and joints, gradually increases the heart rate and warms up the connections between the brain and body.
A warm up should start at a much lower intensity than your workout. You could start at about twenty heart beats below your usual aerobic pace, and gradually build your pace for three to five minutes. Only after this lower intensity phase should you include anything more dynamic or higher impact. You could consider doing this on a more forgiving surface than you would normally run on, such as grass. If the weather is cool, start off wearing warmer clothes and cut down to your running layers as you warm up. This way you don’t have to discard clothing mid run, or start your run freezing cold.
A warm up for running can include elements such as:
Walking is a similar movement to running, at a much lower intensity. If you have recently been sleeping, or sitting at work all day, walking can ease you into higher intensity activity.
While even further studies have found that static stretching before running has no impact on the likelihood of injury occurring, and may even cause a decrease in performance, a warm up can include dynamic stretching, which involves limb swings or lifts that gently move through the body’s range of motion. Dynamic stretching can increase the pre-activation and proprioception of muscles. Other forms of stretching can be used to improve flexibility or reduce tightness in specific areas, but this is something that takes time and will not simply work in the few minutes before running.
A variety of movements performed at a higher intensity than walking, but allowing rest in between can be a good step before running. These activities could include skipping, striding (gradually increasing and then decreasing your pace for 50-100 metres), backward jogging and side steps. Be sure to take care if performing unfamiliar activities for the first time.
A good warm down is as important as a warm up. Aim to gradually decrease your heart rate over a five to ten minute period. This should stop you suddenly getting cold at the end of your work out, although you should put your warmer layers back on if you are warming down in colder weather. A good warm down helps flush metabolic waste from your muscles accumulated in your higher intensity work out.
Be sure to ‘listen’ to your body, treat it with care and help it perform better for you. Although stretching is a typical pre-run activity that has debatable benefits, it is still important to incorporate a warm up and warm down phase into your run.
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