How stretch­ing can im­prove per­for­mance

Both types — static and dy­namic — prove to be a ben­e­fit for all ath­letes

Calgary Herald - - FRONT PAGE - MAR­LENE CIMONS

Myles Sch­nei­der, 74, a semi-re­tired po­di­a­trist, stretches for 60 min­utes six times a week. Sch­nei­der, who also walks briskly for 45 min­utes twice weekly and runs three times a week for 45 min­utes in the deep end of a pool, spends more time stretch­ing than he does in other ex­er­cises.

An hour of slow stretch­ing may seem ex­ces­sive, but it works for Sch­nei­der.

When he did dis­tance run­ning in his 20s, he stretched for about 10 min­utes be­fore and af­ter runs. Since reach­ing his mid-50s, how­ever, he’s been stretch­ing in the late af­ter­noon or early evening.

“Af­ter a few min­utes, I feel more en­er­gized and no longer tired,” he said. “I also re­ally no­tice my­self re­lax­ing men­tally, es­pe­cially if I’m stressed out about some­thing. Also, I’m cer­tainly more flex­i­ble than I was 20 years ago.”

By not do­ing stretch­ing with his work­outs, Sch­nei­der skirts the de­bate over whether slow stretch­ing — known as “static” stretch­ing — helps or hin­ders per­for­mance.

From the 1960s to the late 1990s, fit­ness pro­fes­sion­als be­lieved static stretch­ing be­fore ex­er­cise, warmed up mus­cles and pre­vented in­jury.

Later, how­ever, re­search sug­gested that it caused mus­cle fa­tigue and slower sprint­ing times in elite ath­letes. This prompted many to aban­don it for “dy­namic” stretch­ing, which looks more like real ex­er­cise. To­day, many ex­perts think a com­bi­na­tion of both be­fore a vig­or­ous work­out or com­pe­ti­tion is best.

It’s im­por­tant to know what hap­pens at the mus­cles’ cel­lu­lar level dur­ing static stretch­ing.

“Our mus­cles are made of thou­sands of mus­cle spin­dles — like hairs in a pony­tail — that give the mus­cle cell the abil­ity to stretch and con­tract by slid­ing past each other,” said Michael Jonesco, an as­sis­tant clin­i­cal pro­fes­sor of sports medicine at Ohio State Uni­ver­sity. “Static stretch­ing pulls on the cell to the max, and can cause some stretch in­jury that takes time to re­cover, and can there­fore cause a tem­po­rary drop in per­for­mance.”

Dy­namic stretch­ing, on the other hand, puts the mus­cles in mo­tion repet­i­tively, and “is es­sen­tially pre­par­ing your mus­cle in a grad­u­ally pro­gres­sive fash­ion to do the job you want it to do,” said Ed­ward Laskowski, a phys­i­cal medicine and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion spe­cial­ist at the Mayo Clinic.

“For ex­am­ple, you may want to do a front kick in mar­tial arts or in dance. So you would start with some slow and gen­tle kicks, grad­u­ally in­creas­ing speed and in­ten­sity un­til you are per­form­ing the kicks you nor­mally would.”

Af­ter con­sid­er­ing hun­dreds of stud­ies, re­searchers con­cluded that a mixed warm-up was the op­ti­mal ap­proach. “Brief pe­ri­ods of static stretch­ing, of­ten fol­lowed by dy­namic pe­ri­ods of warm-up, is a great means to pre­pare for com­pe­ti­tion,” Jonesco said.

More­over, reg­u­lar static stretch­ing — whether tied to ex­er­cise or not — con­veys a num­ber of ben­e­fits. It in­creases flex­i­bil­ity, im­proves cir­cu­la­tion and re­duces risk of in­jury, among other things. “I like to think of stretch­ing as a way to op­ti­mize the range of mo­tion about your joints,” Laskowski said.

Re­cent re­search sug­gests that

Brief pe­ri­ods of static stretch­ing, of­ten fol­lowed by dy­namic pe­ri­ods of warm-up, is a great means to pre­pare for com­pe­ti­tion.

static stretch­ing helps the el­derly and those with im­paired mo­bil­ity be­cause it in­creases blood flow to the mus­cles.

Reg­u­lar stretch­ing im­proved walk­ing abil­ity among those with pe­riph­eral artery dis­ease, a con­di­tion that causes painful cramp­ing in the lower ex­trem­i­ties. It also might im­prove mo­bil­ity for di­a­bet­ics, who some­times suf­fer nerve dam­age in their ex­trem­i­ties. “You are never too old to gain a ben­e­fit,” Laskowski said. “Our con­nec­tive tis­sue tight­ens as we get older, so stretch­ing is ben­e­fi­cial.”

He sug­gests hold­ing a stretch for at least 30 sec­onds. Don’t bounce, which can cause “mi­cro trauma” to the mus­cle. Many peo­ple stretch both be­fore and af­ter ex­er­cise, but Laskowski be­lieves the best time to stretch is af­ter, when the mus­cles and tis­sues are warm. Equal flex­i­bil­ity on each side is also im­por­tant to pre­vent mus­cle im­bal­ance, which can lead to in­jury, he said.

Jonesco agreed. “Be sure to do both sides, right and left,” he said.

He dis­misses the lack-of-time ar­gu­ment some peo­ple make. “I put some mu­sic on or watch a tele­vi­sion show while I stretch. I’m re­laxed, I’m not rushed, and it gives my mus­cles a bet­ter chance to stretch out,” he said. “I have kept that sched­ule to this day.”

Re­cent re­search sug­gests that static stretch­ing helps the el­derly and those with im­paired mo­bil­ity be­cause it in­creases blood flow to the mus­cles.

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