For most of us, static stretching is an essential part of our pre and post-exercise routine, or at least we’ve always thought it should be. It was what we were all (well most of us) taught in PE at school, so surely it’s the sensible thing to do? Well perhaps not and that’s why we need to change our approach to stretching.
Static stretching (as opposed to dynamic) is holding one position, usually for 30 seconds, to stretch key muscles. Dynamic stretching is becoming a much more popular approach which involves repeated movements through your available range.
You will often see professional sportsmen and women swinging their legs and arms about as part of their warm up – this is dynamic stretching. After some gentle jogging, start off gently before building up gradually towards the speed that the England rugby team are doing in this video. It is important not to go too hard or force it too far towards the end-of-range, otherwise there is the risk of pulling a muscle.
Most of us will have used static stretching as a way of reducing the chances of picking up an injury – but it’s now believed that there is little benefit and it could even increase the chance of injury in some cases. It could even reduce your performance!
Is static stretching bad?
Well, potentially if done directly before sport. However, with so many of us now spending prolonged hours sat in the same position at work or home, it’s not unusual for tightness to develop in some areas – particularly in the hamstrings, calves and hip flexors. These tight muscles can reduce your range of movement and adversely affect your performance as well as feeling uncomfortable. So stretching to improve this range of movement is advised.
Stretching is a good thing and should be an integral part of training plans and schedules for those who regularly exercise. But we need to change the reasons why we stretch and when we stretch, it shouldn’t be seen as a warm-up.
Think of stretching in this way – if you’re training for a serious run then you do the long runs in the months leading up to it, not on the day of the race. That’s how static stretching needs to be viewed – part of the plan but not as a warm-up on the day.
Good range of movement is important but it needs to be strong and controlled – see our blog on marathon training for more detail on this. Static stretching prior to exercise doesn’t appear to have any benefit in reducing the chance of injury and may even increase it, so how should you warm up?
Half marathons and more
- If it’s a cold morning then keep layered up for as long as possible. Use the first few miles as your warm up – start gently at no more than a 6/10 effort which also leaves you a bit more in the tank for later on. You can also try 5-10 minutes of easy jogging before making your way to the start incorporating some dynamic stretching.
10k or lower
- Spend around 10 minutes warming up before the start, gradually increasing intensity to an absolute maximum of 7/10 whilst also including some dynamic stretching. You should reach the maximum effort no less than 10 minutes before the run starts.