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What's the real reason for stretching?

by Cathy Kornmeyer, PT, LAT

We've all been told that runners need to stretch. Not only is it important for injury prevention, it's also critical for performance. So, why don't we stretch? Why don't we practice what we preach?

In my opinion, one of the main reasons for not stretching is that we don't know why stretching is so important for preventing injuries. The more you understand, the more you might actually start that "practicing" part.

Stretching is a vital part of performance enhancement. All day, your routine probably centers around sitting at a desk, sitting in a car, lying on the couch, all passive activities that place your muscles in a shortened position. Over time, that shortened position becomes the resting state of your muscles. When it's time for your run, you then ask these "shortened" muscles to lengthen. However, you neglect to even give them a "heads up." This abrupt change is extremely hard for your muscles to accept; in fact, sometimes they even fight back and give you a strain.

Stretching allows for that "heads up." When you stretch, you're actually deforming the muscle tissue into a lengthened position. Over time, stretching will increase the range of motion available at your joints and ultimately lead to overall improved performance.

Did you know that a static stretching program performed once a day can improve your performance by 2-5%? Use these 5 basic stretches as a starting block to begin your stretching program today. Hold these stretches without bouncing for 30 seconds, 1 to 2 times per day. You'll be surprised how well you feel in about 6 weeks.

Warm muscles stretch better than cold muscles. When you stretch a cold muscle, you risk tearing the muscle fibers that you're trying to protect. So, before you stretch, perform a short five-minute warm-up.

Quads: Stand on one leg and bring the leg to be stretched behind you, holding your ankle with the same hand. Keep your thighs parallel and the involved knee pointed straight to the ground. Push your involved hipbone slightly forward, being sure to keep standing up straight. Don't lean over – this doesn't help increase the stretch!

Hip flexors: Kneel on the leg to be stretched with the other leg out in front. Slightly tuck your buttocks in and lunge forward. Try not to arch your back.

Hamstring:Prop the leg to be stretched on a small step, keeping your knee straight. Keep your back straight while you slightly lean your chest forward – hinging at your hips. Do not bend over – this is a less efficient way to stretch and actually puts stress on your back.

Part 1: Place the leg to be stretched behind you. Lunge forward while keeping your heel on the ground and knee straight.

Part 2: Put a slight bend at the knee while keeping your heel on the ground.

For questions on stretching, other sports medicine topics, or to schedule a Free Injury Evaluation, call the Aurora Sports Medicine Hotline™ at 414-219-7776 or 800-219-7776.