19 November 2019

Stretching – expert advice

August 7, 2008

In the first of a new series of features on Sportsister we ask our expert panel to answer your sporting questions. This week Nicki de Leon, a sports injury physiotherapist, looks at stretching.

If you would like your health, fitness or training questions answered just email us at clinic@sportsister.com.

Q: Although I am not new to running, I keep hearing conflicting views on stretching. Please could you tell me when the best time to stretch is, what I am supposed to be doing and how long I should stretch for?

stretching.pngA: You are right that recommendations on stretching seem to change continuously and will differ depending on who you are asking. Although there is still limited evidence to support conflicting opinions, stretching has always been promoted as a way to prevent injuries in sport and to enhance performance.

Recent research has shown that stretching before exercise doesn’t prevent post-exercise muscle soreness. They also found little support for the theory that stretching immediately before exercise can prevent acute sports injuries.

However, a combined approach of a dynamic warm up followed by stretching can help prevent injuries. Performing a warm up similar to the exercise you are about to undertake, helps prepare you for the actual event by raising the temperature in the muscles and thus preventing a sudden overstretch as you accelerate.

Warming up exercises combined with stretches is considered to be the most effective way of increasing the range of movement of your joints. The key therefore is to perform your stretches to the relevant muscle groups after you have warmed up properly and before you start your exercise.

Never bounce your stretches, as this induces a defensive reflex contraction of the muscle making it susceptible to injury. Stretches held for less than 30 seconds have not been found to have the desired effect on the muscles and stretching for longer than 40 seconds has not been shown to have any more benefit than a 30 second stretch.

Therefore, the advice is to hold a static stretch for around 30 seconds per muscle and to ensure that you include all the major muscle groups relevant to the exercise you are about to perform. You will get the most out of your muscle stretches if you are relaxed, so make sure that you focus on slow deep breaths and even try and stretch that little bit further as you exhale.

A warm down after you have finished exercising helps to bring your heart rate down to its resting rate gradually and lowers the temperature of the muscles. Before your muscles have cooled down make sure you repeat all of your pre-exercise stretches again as this will help to maintain your increased range of movement and prevent you from stiffening up.

Nicki de Leon, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine

Nicki de Leon is a sports injury physiotherapist with over ten years experience treating elite sportsmen and women and professional dancers. She was the official physio of the British Paralympic swimming team for over three years and attended the Paralympic Games in Athens 2004.

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