Part 1 - why

Unlike when I was a small lad starting out in the Colts age group over thirty years ago, nowadays virtually all athletes are aware of the need to stretch. However, many people do not know how to stretch correctly or why they are stretching.

Like any training session stretching will vary according to the desired outcome, but some people are not aware that stretching may have different purposes! I like to categorise stretching into three main objectives, warm up, maintenance and increased flexibility .

Warm up
This is the area where most mistakes are made. Trying to increase flexibility i.e. increasing the physiological range of movement of a joint, before exercise is now known to increase the risk of injury.

Warm up exercises should be ballistic and within the comfortable physiological range. A good example is strides. Any stretching before hard training should follow a gentle jog warm up.

Static stretches at the absolute limit of movement are a bad idea.

Maintenance
These are the minimum you should be doing to reduce the risk of injury. Maintenance is what I call stretching after a run.

The reason for this is the increased muscle tone as a result of exercise. Leaving this tone present in muscles after exercise will result in physiological shortening of the muscles (just imagine how you would feel if you did not warm down after a race).

Even after a steady run a short walk before coming to a complete stop will be beneficial and this can be followed by static stretching.

Increased Flexibility
Many people believe this why they stretch and this is what they achieve by stretching - wrong! To increase flexibility a separate stretching session is required in the same way that speed sessions and endurance sessions are different.

Different types of stretching facilitate increased flexibility such as static stretching and PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation). PNF is easier when done with a stretching partner.

How you stretch is equally important in determining the end result of your stretching. Variables include the number of repetitions and the length of hold of the stretch. I will cover this in my next article.

Stretching - how and why (2)

This article was written by Terence Barnes a registered Osteopath and trained sports therapist. Injury treatment, therapeutic sports massage and biomechanical assessments are offered at a reduced rate to club members, just phone 07807 485893 to arrange an appointment.