17 September 2019

A beginner’s guide to – stretching

June 19, 2009

As the charity fun run season gets underway many women may be running for the first time. Here’s Sportsister’s guide to stretching, to make sure you know how, when and why you should stretch.

There are various misunderstandings about stretching, like how much and for how long, whilst depending upon the timing, for some it can actually be damaging!

Based on the overall physiological fact, ‘the more you stretch a muscle, the more powerfully it contracts’, resistance training involving sets and repetitions significantly benefits from this principle. Consider how much more powerfully an elastic band snaps back the further you pull it and you’ll appreciate that particular piece of muscle physiology plus. However, let’s concern ourselves here with stretch and the runner for all of you women soon to hit the road!

Those of you who experience re-current episodes of pulls and strains in your running activities, I would strongly advise you to at least try for a realistic period of time (four weeks), completely stopping your stretch routine before your training sessions and events. Instead, simply concentrate on a thorough warm up and stretch only during your cool down procedure.

During the contraction of a muscle, parallel contractions of two filaments occur, namely actin and myosin. They move closer together and slide over each other when that muscle contracts; sometimes referred to as the ‘actin-myosin bridge’. Inexplicably in some, this and other physiological processes are disrupted if they stretch before significant exertions, with pulls, tears and cramps often being the painful result.

Remember that no-one anywhere on the entire planet really knows for sure, the ground zero reasons for cramp. This scientific absolute that we have yet to discover is also accompanied by other sports science mysteries such as why some individuals ‘suffer’ more because they stretch before their activities, but nevertheless for the time being we have to accept this status quo.

The rest of us will certainly benefit from stretching before our event, but some basics should be borne in mind to get the best results.

Truly effective stretch benefit only begins after 15 seconds have passed holding a stretch in the mild pull position, or, as an easy to remember ‘AA’, to signify annoying ache. To be precise, using a watch for this is a very good practice.

When moving to the AA point, what is happening is that the myotatic reflex is allowing you to stretch that muscle out, until you reach the limit of its present flexibility levels, sometimes referred to as the ‘AC’ (acquired capacity). When you feel that sustained mild pull, moving beyond it causes you significant discomfort/ pain.

This is because once you reach the constructive limit of the myotatic reflex, the inverse myotatic reflex kicks in immediately to stop you damaging yourself, by causing pain/discomfort and forcing you to withdraw to the constructive flexibility development limits.

Dynamic/bounce stretching which uses considerable momentum and plunges you past muscle limit points at such a velocity, that the inverse myotatic reflex simply isn’t fast enough to intervene; has been claimed by some to be more sport specific. However, in 40 years of experience in the field, by far and above the most injuries I have encountered, are amongst those who use bounce/dynamic stretching.

Dynamic stretch is a haven for something called ‘sub-clinical micro trauma’. This is where damage is continuously inflicted in small and relatively unnoticed increments, but nevertheless accumulate until that person eventually feels significant pain, then called clinical trauma. Commonly, it is actually the gradual effect of inappropriate stretch practice that eventually builds up unseen, which finally results in the person concerned , certainly ‘knowing’ about it!. The rope that subtly wears away only a few strands at a time, but one day……

Try to stretch with your eyes closed as much as possible and let the feel of the stretch be your only guide. For example, your training sessions over the same route regularly, performing your cool-down stretches in the same place with the same view before you. So when stretching your rear upper thighs for example (hamstrings) and you go down in your line of vision to that 4th row of bricks in that wall opposite, you may innocently have already begun being guided by visual triggers, which isn’t good news!

Closed eyes, takes away your visual awareness and more often than not as part of this sensory deprivation process, will intensify your ‘feel’ mechanism for being in deep contact with your flexibility. A blind man’s hearing is significantly more acute than a sighted person, and Mother Nature’s skills can be equally active in this way during your stretch sensitivity process.

Strictly speaking though, there is no time limit as to how long you should sustain a stretch, other than the clinically factual 15 second start time. However, once you are over the 60 second mark, boredom or even a sensation of the tedious can set in, so take it as read that after a minute, you’ll have gleaned good clinical benefits from your stretch.

Alan Gordon, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine

Alan has a Masters Degree in Biomechanics and Applied Human Movement, a First Class Honours Degree in Sports Nutrition and Advanced Clinical Diplomas in both Stress Management and Sports Therapy with 40 years in his field. He belongs to ‘The British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences’ and ‘The International Society of Biomechanics’ and is in fact, one of the highest qualified one-to-one Exercise and Nutritional specialists in the UK and Europe. www.alangordon-health.co.uk/


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  1. Pingback: Sporsister, The Women's Sports Magazine - start a new sport | Sportsister

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