Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Stop stretching?

Athletes would seem to stop at nothing to justify not to warm up before an event and to avoid stretching altogether.

The current controversy rages as various parties debates the value of stretching and when to do what form of stretching. It seems like the American College of Sports medicines 2010 guidelines recommending that athletes rather stretch after training than before training has caught on. (American College of Sports Medicine. 2010. ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins)

The above recommendations appear to stem from a number of studies that do report a decline in performance after stretching in activities that require maximal muscle effort. However there are quite a few studies that do not show this effect.

The difference in results seems to be explained by the duration of how long the stretch was kept. Stretches kept for longer than 60sec decreased performance, stretches lasting 30-45sec showed inconsistent decrease in performance and stretches kept for less than 30sec showed no decrease in performance. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21659901 

I personally don’t know a lot of athletes that typically keep their stretches that long though!

In practice I have seen a lot of benefit from the Active Isolated Stretching (AIS) method of Aaron Mattes where he propagates repetitions of 2sec. This technique is typically perceived by athletes as less boring and thus subsequently improving their compliance to stretching as well.

Please note: Stretching does not directly equate to warm-up and my current best recommendations would be to stick to an active warm-up that:
  • Progressively build intensity to increase muscle temperature
  • Prepares the athlete for the activities and intensity of competition or training
  • Include some AIS for the major muscle group utilized in your sport.

Utilize sustained stretches for problem areas after training and keep the stretches long enough to achieve permanent lengthening in the area. I do however have a question in my mind about how effective sustained stretching really is vs. techniques like Pilates, Yoga and Gyrokinesis. These techniques promote actively mobilizing the body as a whole and I currently recommend those more.

One benefit from sustained stretching seems to be that if you are a "cramper" during endurance events that stretching can postpone the occurrence of cramping. http://www.sportsscientists.com/2007/12/muscle-cramps-part-v.html  I would really like someone to investigate if the other techniques mentioned have the same result in this regard.

I  will in future write a post on fascial release techniques that achieve lasting effects when it comes to improved range and biomechanical/posture corrections. This can in my mind to a certain extend replace passive sustained stretching altogether. (Not the active full body techniques mentioned above)

I hope I provided some clarity on the question. Hang in there and don’t neglect your training altogether during the approaching days of winter.

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