We often get asked questions about stretching and like to ensure we include it at the end of various sessions. However, it's useful to get an expert opinion, and here's Gina Reinge from the Reinge Clinic back again for her take on this.
Why we stretch:
When we exercise a muscle, whether doing weights work or an aerobic exercise such as running, the muscles shorten in response. When we finish exercising the muscles are left in a shortened position. So the reason we do a static stretch is to return them to their pre exercise length. We aren’t trying to get them any looser than your normal length and everyone’s length is different. So, it isn’t advisable to try to stretch as part of your warm-up (although dynamic stretching, which is different, can be used to help warm up the joint if you are doing explosive work), as that could leave your joints looser than is normal for you. You don’t want loose joints before running as this can lead to injuries.
So this is easier to understand when we look at weight training. When you do a heavy set in the gym with weights, your muscle will shorten slightly at the end of the set. When you then come to do the next set, your muscles are still in that shortened position, so during this set you are only working the available movement, which is not the full movement as it is in a shortened position. So you aren’t strengthening the full length of the muscle. However, if you stretch after that initial set, you then have the full length of that muscle to use again on your next set, so you end up working the whole muscle, not a shortened element of the muscle. This is the same in running. If you stretch at the end of your run, your muscle will return to its normal length, so next time you run you have the full length of the muscle available again to contract.
So stretching is a really good idea, it stops you getting tighter and tighter and we know that tight muscles pull your joints out of alignment and that can cause injuries. What stretches should you do? Well Calf stretches for both the soleus and gastrocnemius muscles, quad and hamstring stretches, as well as gleuts and a back stretch if you can. Hold each static stretch for at least 20 seconds. It takes our bodies 12 seconds to overcome the stretch reflex action, so stretching for 20 seconds gives you at least 8 seconds of actual stretching. Always relax into a stretch, it should never be painful!
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