Flexibility is considered the range of motion within a joint or group of joints, or to take it one step further, the effectiveness of a joint to move through a particular range of motion.
It is actually considered one of the four core components of fitness:
1. Cardiovascular endurance
2. Muscular strength
3. Muscular endurance
Given that this has been recognized by many of the world leaders in fitness research, it is safe to say it is important for everyone’s general well-being. However, when it comes to sports, and especially running, it becomes even more important. Here is how to stretch before running.
Injury Prevention and Performance
Although there is the odd contradictory study, the majority of research regarding flexibility for injury prevention shows that it does indeed decrease the rate of injuries, particularly those that result from over-use or imbalances.
The reasons for this are still being sorted out, but there are a few explanations. One is that if your muscles are capable of stretching further allowing your joint to move a little further through its range of motion, that may offer a little bit more “buffer room” when being forced to exert force near the end of your range of motion. In other words, if your muscle are being “stretched” to their limits less often, there’s a lower chance of strain injuries.
Stretching can also help alleviate muscle imbalances. For example, it is very common for hockey players and speed skaters to have extremely tight hip flexors. This can eventually result in annoying back problems, which is one of the last things you want to deal with when preparing for competition.
In terms of running, especially for long distances such as marathons or ultra-marathons, there is a dual benefit to stretching:
First, by increasing your hamstring flexibility by, let’s say 1cm, that will make a huge difference in number of steps required to complete the race. This may result in less required effort, ultimately allowing you to push harder sooner, maybe even resulting in a new PB.
Secondly, by taking a lower amount of steps over a given distance, there is statistically less opportunities for you to injure yourself with a rolled ankle or something silly like that. Additionally, less step may mean less use, and therefore a reduced risk of overuse injury.
The main disadvantage of stretching, at least in the static sense (e.g. sit-and-reach) is that it has been shown to decrease muscular power output. For endurance events, this isn’t really a problem, but for those also participating in a sport that requires a little more explosiveness, this can be a problem especially if you’re looking to reduce risk of injury.
Therefore, it is often recommended that dynamic stretching be performed prior to the event (e.g. leg swings), which has been shown to prevent this loss in muscular power output. Then, during cool-down, it is recommended to perform the standard static stretching that most of us are used to.
Stretching is extremely important for health and fitness and elite competition alike. The type of stretching you perform is up to you and depends on what sort of training you are doing. Lots of runners perform static stretching before AND after a run, and they find it really helps, so don’t feel limited to only what you read in this article. We simply want to get the wheels turning for you and help you reach your own personal running goals. If you find it boring, we don’t blame you, but finding some peers to stretch with or having some music handy can really help solve that problem!