To Stretch Or Not To Stretch…

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This blog came from something that annoyed me the other week (as usual).

The thing that got me this time was an article that had been shared by a widely followed physiotherapy page on Facebook. The things that most annoyed me about this, in no particular order are as follows:

1.       They gave a link to the article that required you to pay £28 to read it – I searched the internet and found it for free. But obviously, this would probably put off the majority of people from bothering to read the full study.

2.       They carefully selected 3 quotes from the article which served their purpose and highlighted them in their post, which left them totally out of context.

3.       The post was liked hundreds of times and shared LOTS, spreading the tabloid style attention-grabbing misinformation as fact.

So, what was the article about? It was regarding the impact of stretching on the performance and injury risk of long-distance runners. It looks at various studies and ‘primarily investigates static stretching’. Over and over it states how acute static stretching directly pre-event is the baddie but this was a fact not mentioned in the post – it simply states that stretching ‘can reduce running economy and performance’. So all stretching = bad stretching, right? Nope! Wrong.

In fact, the article mentioned a very small study where a regular stretching regime, post event, did no damage whatsoever to running economy. But hey, don’t mention that – its not headline worthy!

Another statement made in the post was stretching ‘does not delay onset of muscle soreness’. In the article the section on DOMS is pretty vague and frankly comes to no conclusion, saying that stretching ‘does not provide a significant impact on DOMS’. But as I’ve said numerous times in the past, everyone is different. If you stretch and find it helps you cope with the nasty muscle ache post-exercise should you stop it because someone did a study in the 90s? I’d say no.

And then we come to the statement regarding the ‘fact’ that stretching ‘does not appear to have an injury preventive effect’. This section in the article is focused on ‘chronic injury’, so overuse injuries really – and if you’re a runner and run a lot you will more than likely suffer them at some point. So really it’s a bit state the obvious – but this section also states that stretching in injury rehab can be effective for regaining range of motion. But that’s not interesting enough and I get the feeling it was a case of ‘I needed a 3rd one to really push it home that stretching is pointless’.

Aaaaaaanyway, those are the basics. A trusted physio page published a post with 3 attention grabbing headlines from it that ‘informed’ their thousands of readers that stretching is useless, and what’s worse, damaging to your running economy. Which is not the story in the article…but who cares about facts eh?

This is just one example, but you see it all the time. And what really gets me is that no matter how much research I read or how many people I work with I have yet to see anything that tells me either way that stretching is 100% good, 100% bad or 100% useless.

It seems to me that no matter how many immensely experienced and knowledgeable people come together there just doesn’t seem to be anything conclusive that will tell us exactly what we should be doing to maintain and protect our bodies during sport. And do you know why? Because every single person is bloody different. I’m not just talking about physically but also mentally. Everyone has their own running style – which by the way, you learnt to do when you were about 2 years old and didn’t have access to gait analysis experts and specialist insoles –  and that style isn’t just about how your foot hits the ground. It’s about everything you do in training, pre-event, post-event and during the event – whether that’s the London marathon or a 1 mile plod round the park. And that is what I believe is important (no poorly quoted evidence based studies to back this up – soz)

It’s all about creating your own structure and routine that works for you.

I think social media can be awesome for so many things, but one thing it does that irritates me is fill our screens and heads with thousands of experts peddling their opinions as fact. When the real fact is, if there was one diet, one activity, one exercise, one routine that would make us all feel 100% awesome and be the best we can be – I’m pretty sure we’d all be doing it. As effortsome as it may seem, it takes a bit of time and self-discovery to find out what works for us as an individual.

Every running coach has different techniques they can use to get the best from their clients. If you looked at training plans side by side, you can bet that each coach will rely on a range of different mental and physical preparations. When I stand pitch-side watching 2 rugby teams warm up, I love seeing the differences in preparation between each one. Some are very psychological, some are very physical, some are very relaxed and off the cuff and others are planned with military precision, down to the last minute. But every single one is different and formed entirely around how that coach wants their players to play.

It’s the same with running. And whether you have access to a coach or not, you’ll need to tune in to your body and sort of be your own coach too. Listen to your limbs, pick up on any changes, find out if there’s a stretch that can sort out your inflexible bits, experiment with a couple of different pre-event meals and see what suits you best. Your pre-event prep could be a cup of coffee & a trip to the bog, or it could be a carefully thought out dynamic stretching routine and mental run through of the course. Whatever. It doesn’t matter. Does it feel right and work for you? Great!

It takes time and you’ll probably pick things up along the way or decide to get rid of certain things too – talk to friends, join a club, look up the experts online, try stuff they recommend, but don’t take it as gospel that you NEED to be doing a, b and c in order to be able to run properly.

Because that’s a load of crap. Cheers.

PS: Heres a link to the article if you feel the need

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