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When Should You Stretch?

Posted by swifty9 Jan 22, 2009

All athletes at some point in their careers have been told to stretch. As children stretching is worked into the normal workout routine of practice. Once we move to high school, college, and beyond we forget the importance of stretching. Overall flexibility plays a huge role in injury prevention.

 

Flexibility is the key. Athletes who are more flexible tend to have fewer problems with muscle strains and cramping. Flexibility can also prevent low back pain and muscle soreness. By remaining flexible in the lower body it puts less stress on the low back and allows for more movement in the hips.

 

The most common question asked by coaches and athletes about stretching continues to be; is it better to stretch before or after activity. There are two schools of thought here. The first one is that we should stretch before activity in order to increase flexibility prior to a workout or competition, with the idea that this will decrease the risk for injury. The second idea would be to stretch after competition in order to increase overall flexibility when the body is already warm. Some coaches even use this as a cool down.

 

The answer to this question is actually more complex than one might think. Studies have shown that static stretching before activity (stretching and holding the stretch for longer periods) can decrease the ability of the muscle to produce a powerful contraction. This can significantly decrease athletic performance. What has been proven to be a more effective method is a dynamic warm-up and stretch. Dynamic stretching lengthens the muscle by stretching it thenand contracting them it in quick succession. A warm up should last long enough to warm the core temperature of the body and should cause perspiration. Dynamic stretching should be progressive and should increase in difficulty during the routine and should never be done beyond the capability of the athlete. A good example of a dynamic stretch would be a long arc leg swing. This can be performed by standing with the legs parallel and kicking one leg in front of the body then swinging it back into an extended position and kicking the leg forward again. Each swing should be far enough to cause a slight stretch and the end ranges but should not be painful. This exercise will stretch the hamstrings and the quadriceps muscles. The best way to choose a dynamic exercise for the warm up is to perform a movement specific to the activity and perform it slowly and controlled in order to warm up the muscles that are specific to that activity. The warm up should last long enough to warm the core temperature of the body and should cause perspiration.

 

 

This answer usually sparks another question. When should we use static stretching? Static stretching can increase overall flexibility and help to clear lactic acids from the muscles, which can decrease soreness and fatigue after activity. Static stretching should only be done post exercise and should last fifteen to thirty minutes. A static stretching routine can be used as a cool down and should be all encompassing. It should cover all the major muscle groups. The major muscle groups in the legs include the hamstrings, quadriceps, and calf muscles. One example of static stretching is a standing hamstrings stretch. This is performed by standing with legs together; folding from the hips bring the chest toward the ground. Static stretches are most effective if held for 20-30 seconds.

 

 

Static stretching can also be done without a workout. Most of us like to sit at home in front of the TV. This is a great time to stretch. Yoga is also a great option to assist in increased flexibility.

 

 

Remember flexibility is the key. Stay Flexible and injury free.

 

 

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?Balance Your Body?

Posted by FordPhDATC Jan 1, 2009

For runners, cyclists, and multisport athletes it is extremely common to develop human movement dysfunction as a result of training. The human body attempts to adapt to your training stimulus but often this training creates muscle imbalances. The muscle imbalance I am referring to is different than the traditional concept of muscle imbalance, when one muscle increases its strength when compared to its opposing muscle (e.g. quadriceps verses hamstring strength). The muscle imbalance will develop "tightness" in a group of muscles which in turn causes the opposing muscle group to "shut off" or to become "weaker". During training and competition, muscles are placed under repetitive stress. In an effort to adapt to this stress many muscles tend to "tighten" up. For example the hip flexors (i.e. rectus abdominis) accelerate hip flexion during running and cycling, because of the constant pattern of overuse the hip flexors become "tight". Not only does this create a loss of range of motion at the hip but this "tightness" creates a unique phenomenon in the body causing the hip extensors to be "shut off" or "weak". This is very common in distance athletes creating muscle imbalances often leading to overuse injuries throughout the body. As an athlete's hip flexors become increasingly "tight" the opposite muscle, gluteus maximus, has a difficult time trying to maximally fire to develop hip extension. Like two ropes pulling on each side of the pelvis, if one is pulling too much this will ultimately cause a shift in the athlete's pelvis leading to changes in static (i.e. standing) and dynamic posture (I.e. running or cycling posture). This posture change can lead to pain from the feet to the back to the neck.

 

The lower body muscles that commonly become "tight" are the back extensors, hip flexors, adductors, and portions of the hamstring and calf muscles. As a result of these "tight" muscles their opposing muscle groups become "weak" which includes the deep core musculature (i.e. transverse abdominis, internal obliques), gluteus maximus and medius, hip abductors, and anterior lower leg muscles. Experts call this dysfunction the "Lower Crossed Syndrome (LCS)", primarily referring to tight hip flexors causing "weak" gluts and tight low back muscles causing a "weak" core.

 

The negative effects of the LCS can be first reduced through increasing one's flexibility of the "tight" muscles. Participating in habitual stretching of the low back, hip flexors, adductors, hamstrings, and calf musculature will begin to restore function. A kneeling hip flexor stretch would be a great place to start. Second is to work on proper posture and to strengthen the "weak" muscles. Of particular importance is to strengthen the core, particularly the transverse abdominis and other trunk flexors. In addition the gluts need to be reactivated. One exercise that may help is the "bridge". Lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat, tighten your core (pulling your belly button in) and squeezing your gluts, lift your hips off the ground until your hips are level with your knees and shoulders. Many variations of this exercise can be done. Squeezing a ball between your knees, lifting one leg off the ground at time, or for advanced work, place an exercise ball under your feet. By challenging your balance during this bridging exercise you develop strength in all directions. When combining flexibility for the "tight" and strengthening the "weak" you will be able to reduce you likelihood of overuse injuries and ultimately increase your performance.

 

 

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