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Stretching: often called into question, but never rejected

07.01.2021

Stretching: often called into question, but never rejected

One thing is certain: even if you’ve never practiced a sport, you’ve likely heard of stretching, whether it’s global or postural stretching, or active or passive stretching.

But what does it involve?

Stretching involves the lengthening of a muscle or group of muscles, caused by an external force, with or without the subject’s voluntary participation. You use the weight of your own body, perhaps in combination with manual traction or an external force. In sum, stretching is applying tension to a muscle.

You can do it without voluntary movement: these are passive stretches; or by combining an application of tension with a muscle contraction: these are active stretches.

You can stretch almost all your muscles, but in running, the most important ones are:

· the quadriceps

· the hamstrings

· the glutes

· the calves

When should you stretch?

For the greatest efficacy, ideally you should do your stretching separate from your running sessions. But since what is ideal is not always practical, it is always best to stretch after you run rather than before!

How many times should you stretch?

Traditional protocol:

- For each muscle: 3 times, 30 seconds on each side

- Weekly schedule: 3 times per week

Can stretching prevent muscle aches?

You can’t prevent muscle aches by stretching before you work out, nor can you reduce them by stretching at the end of a workout. There is even a risk that you might aggravate muscle aches if you stretch after a high-intensity workout (weightlifting, rebounding, speed training).

Can stretching improve performance?

The relationship between a strong muscle and a flexible muscle, something that was long considered true, has not been demonstrated. Running performance, which depends on muscle performance, is therefore not directly related to whether or not you stretch. In other words, stretching doesn’t make you run faster or longer.

Can stretching help with warming up?

The purpose of warming up is to prepare your muscles to perform a running, jumping, pushing or other action. Passive stretches lengthen the muscle while reducing its ability to contract, which means that passive stretching right before running is not a wise way to warm up. One stretching method is very often used, however, and rightly so, because it prepares the muscle to contract: the ballistic method. This technique involves quickly throwing your leg in one direction, usually in front of you or to the side. The exercise is repeated a dozen times on each side and in each direction.

So in the end, how is stretching useful?

Stretching, for all athletes and therefore also for runners, should be part of a healthy lifestyle. By stretching regularly, you may, to a certain extent, prevent potentially pathological processes, muscle tension imbalances and joint stiffness, which could cause injury, from setting in. We would also point out that, if you practice stretching reasonably, there is little chance that it will cause an injury.

In light of our current knowledge, stretching does not appear to be as indispensable as people long said it was. All the same, you should not overlook the individuality and subjectivity we are all entitled to as athletes.

Conclusion

In summary, we would advise passive stretching on a regular basis, even daily, on cold muscles, separate from other exercise. Remember that the effects of stretching are rarely negative or dangerous.

François Fourchet, Head of Physiotherapy at Hôpital de La Tour


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