Why stretching shouldn’t be forgotten by fit, busy mums

By Murrary Kovesy

(BHSc – Clinical Myotherapist)

Being a busy mum can make exercise a challenge to fit into your busy schedule. Your hectic morning exercise or run is often escaping the house with minimal preparation and often little to no priority for recovery. Although stretching might be the last thing on your mind having a good stretching routine is essential. A quick thigh stretch for three seconds on each side before going for a run does very little! Spend five minutes of your time before and after exercise and create a proper stretching habit. You will notice the benefits of stretching almost immediately providing it is done properly. It will boost sports performance, improve muscle strength and reduce recovery time. This will make exercise more enjoyable and sustainable in the long run (pun intended).

There has been much debate in recent years about the topic of static versus dynamic stretches and when to apply them either before or after exercise. For the record, static stretching is when you stretch a muscle to a point and then hold the stretch for a period of time, say 20 seconds. Dynamic stretching is when you slowly warm up the muscles by moving them through the range of motion that they are about go through in your training session. So, for example, you may warm up for a sprint session with some slower sprints or runs.

A little while ago some research came out that indicated that static stretching before the workout isn’t such a good thing. Static stretches improve flexibility but they may decrease muscular strength, which may induce weakness that contributes to an injury. Well, this is what the research was starting to indicate. A recent study by the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research looked at ‘The Acute Effects of Combined Static and Dynamic Stretch Protocols on Fifty-meter Sprint Performance in Track-and-field Athletes’. It was concluded that when compared to a solely dynamic stretch approach, static stretching in a warm-up decreases sprint performance when combined with dynamic stretches. Most research is tending to support the notion that static stretches decreases muscle power, especially in high performance exercise. Two studies specifically looked at the time it takes needed to recover strength after static stretching. One was ten minutes but longer than five and the other was 24 hours. Like all studies there are potential flaws and the jury is still out on this topic. Despite this earlier warning on static stretching at the beginning of exercise it is now considered possible that it may not be as detrimental as we originally.

So what stretching should you do before a workout?

Before your run, it’s a good idea to do a dynamic warm-up to get blood flow to the working muscles in preparation for exercise. Going into exercise without warming up your muscles first increases the likelihood of developing muscular injuries and DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). Dynamic exercises may include lunges, jump squats, leg swings and high knees. After a dynamic warm-up not only will your muscles be pumped with blood and ready but your mind has subconsciously prepared and mapped out your run. Being both physically and mentally prepared you won’t be able to stop yourself from taking off for that run with vigour (well, let’s hope!).

Your job is not done after your workout either. That means no checking on kids, looking at phone emails or thinking of work just yet. Use static stretches after your training session to cool down and to improve flexibility while your muscles are still warm.  Static stretches are held for an extended period between 30 seconds to 2 minutes depending on areas of tightness. The aim here is to lengthen your muscles to prevent cramping and shortening of muscle fibers. You want to be as relaxed as possible with slow deep breathing throughout.

You will need to stretch the main functional muscles of running, so the legs, hips and thighs. Avoid any bouncing or jerking movements as this gives no benefit and stresses muscle tissue. You want a discomfort level of about 7 out of 10 (each person is different but the point is that it shouldn’t hurt to stretch!). The stretch should be enough to feel the stretch working but not over stretching where you can’t relax or feel your muscles start guarding up. Muscles have stretch receptors where, if over stretched, causes the muscle fibers to shorten and contract which is counterproductive.

Finally, remember heading out for a run:

  • Allow for at least 5 minutes of warm up and cool down time and incorporate stretching
  • Perform dynamic then static stretches in you warm-up and cool down (but you can ditch the static stretches in your warm up if you like)
  • Relax your muscles as much as possible, taking deep breathes throughout stretching
  • Avoid any bouncing or jerking movements whilst stretching
  • Don’t overstretch!

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