observations on gear, adventure, and the world

Outside Magazine’s Fitness Myth #1: “Stretching Prevents Injuries” REBUNKED

What!?! I shouldn’t stretch before I run? Should I stretch ever? The problem with this myth bust is the interplay of stretching and flexibility and performance.

What they got right: Stretching before exercise impedes athletic performance. So yes, static stretching before your race could sabotage your 10k time.

What they got wrong: They said the myth was “Stretching Prevents Injuries,” and the only data on that topic is the following:

“… in several large-scale studies of athletes and military recruits, static stretching did not reduce the incidence of common overuse injuries such as Achilles tendino­pathy and knee pain.”

They only showed that stretching prevents overuse injuries. I don’t argue with that. I will posit that there are important benefits of flexibility for athletes, and that they should stretch as part of a flexibility centered workout. I believe P90X has a flexibility workout on one of it’s DVDs that should work well for most folks.

The pre-race emphasis should be on warming up to prevent injury the science on how to do this right and how well it works is developing, but it seems safe to say it’s worth doing.

Quickly the benefits of stretching, in my estimation are related to the increase in range of motion that results from stretching.

Click image for the video from BERNARTWOOD's Vimeo (screen shot at 1:26).

  1. Increased ability to perform sport-specific tasks. For extreme example Adam Ondra’s bendyness is one of the many tools in his climbing toolkit. Sure you’ll never get as freaky skinny/strong as him, but flexy you can get. The AT/Skimo crowd will be better at ripping skins and transitions as well.
  2. More aerodynamic cycling positions.  The tri-heavy readership of Outside will be especially interested to know that they can shave nontrivial gobs of time off their next iron man by simply hiding from the wind… and they don’t have to buy another bazillion dollar bike-machine to do it.
  3. Fewer pulled muscles in traumatic contexts. Most important and least pithy. Sorry. The point here is that when you crash you get folded up and bent in all kinds of ways, and with increased range of motion your limbs can accommodate these dramatic movements with less potential for injury.

So here is my advice.

(1) Warm-up before racing and training. BUT DO NOT include static stretching in your warm up, “dynamic” stretching or range of motion exercises will be beneficial though.

(2) Flexibility workouts are important. A good yoga practice that includes gentle but effective stretching postures will work well. Focus on sport specific range of motion, and balancing your range of motion eg. cyclists should work quad flexibility in addition to hamstrings and climbers should work on opening their chests and shoulders in addition to leg flexibility. Flexibility workouts are a good time to also do some foam roller work to loosen up tight hips and glutes and work some neglected groups like the gluteus medius… but that’s another topic.

Here’s my ReBUNKED myth:

Myth: Static stretching before races prevents injury.

Truth: It doesn’t help and it reduces performance, warm up dynamically to prevent injury, and increase flexibility in separate training sessions.

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