Written by Toni Teggin
Stretching is a topic that can cause a lot of disagreement. There are so many differing opinions out there on whether to stretch or not, when to stretch, how long to stretch for, should stretching form a training session on its own, should you stretch after a run or before. To try to understand why we stretch we need to understand what happens to a muscle during exercise.
In order for us to move, our muscles must contract and relax. When we exercise we put greater demands on the body. Many of us will exercise by doing repeated movements using only partial ranges of motion. Runners for example perform the same movements over and over again, but these movements do not bring the body through its full range of motion. Doing repeated movements through a partial range of motion can cause muscle imbalances. Some muscles are shortened and after exercise will stay in this shortened position. A number of things would result from our muscles were staying in this shortened position:
- Increased muscle tension
- Decreased range of movements in the joints
- Change in posture
It is worth mentioning that there are some athletes and sports in which the body’s full range of motion is utilised. For these groups a post-stretch is less important. However, many runners will suffer from muscle shortening and muscle imbalances. If you are one of these runners, then stretching is an essential part of your post-training routine. There are any number of reasons that we use to justify not stretching at the end of a run and head straight for the showers such as I don’t have enough time, I find stretches boring, I don’t know if I’m doing them right, I’ll stretch later on. But the benefits of stretching after a run are too important to ignore, especially for a runner with muscle imbalances:
- Reduced muscle tension
- Increased range of motion in the joints
- Enhanced muscular coordination
- Improved posture
If you are suffering from stiffness or pain after running, you should get an assessment to see if there is a more serious injury developing, or if there a particular muscles that need to treated or stretched.