HEALTH & FITNESS
Pre-exercise stretching – are we doing the right thing?
By Roy Gillespie B.Sc. P.T., M.C.P.A., C.A.F.C.I
Pinnacle Sports Physiotherapy, Kelowna, BC
Recent research studies are now questioning the effect of pre-exercise stretching on the risk of exercise-related injury. One study in the Medical Science of Sport Exercise Journal looked at 1,538 male army recruits. They took 2 groups, one which did static stretching (i.e. a stretch that is taken to the point of slight muscle tension and is held for 20 seconds or more) before exercise, and one which did not stretch before exercise. They found that pre-exercise stretching did not protect from injury. Dutch scientists in the American Journal of Sports Medicine have documented similar findings with regards to a group of 421 runners.
With regards to research involving soccer, UK researchers from Manchester Metropolitan University investigated the relationship between current flexibility training protocols and hamstring strain rates in English professional football clubs. Data on flexibility training was collected from 30 clubs in four divisions during the 1998/1999 seasons. When analyzing injury rates in relation to flexibility protocols, the researchers concluded that about 80% of the hamstring strain rate variability was accounted for by stretching holding time.
In other words, the longer a muscle was stretched, the more likely a player was to suffer a hamstring strain.
The "traditional rule book" which is taught to most coaches is to perform a light warm up followed by static stretching. So ingrained is this type of routine that it tends to go unquestioned. However, current research is now showing that static stretching before events may actually be harmful.
As an alternative, the research is suggesting that an active or dynamic warm-up is more beneficial than the traditional "sit and stretch" routine. The dynamic warm-up could consist of a series of movements such as skipping, bouncing, "high knee running", and leg swings forward and sideways to mimic soccer kicks. All dynamic exercises are designed to actively prepare the muscles for performance and are done in a safe and controlled manner. Once the game/practice is over, then the static stretching would be done.