Friday, 12 July 2013

Flexibility and Strength.

Posted by speedygeoff on Friday, July 12, 2013 with 1 comment
One thing I have learnt about flexibility is that it goes hand in hand with strength. The bottom line is, stretching muscles which you never attempt to strengthen is a waste of time.

On strength, how much should I work on this? If you are a long distance runner, you want lean muscle strength, not bulk. And you need active, dynamic strength, the strength which allows you to fly up and down hills with ease at pace. But it’s simple - any distance runner wanting to get strong and stay strong can get away with just a few basic exercises. It would be sufficient to focus on push-ups, sit-ups/sit-backs, dips, chin-ups/pull-ups, and core exercises such as planks.

On flexibility, what are some good stretches for runners? When do runners need to stretch? Why do some runners never stretch? If some flexibility is good, is more flexibility better? Can stretching cause injury?

1. What are some good stretches for runners? An injury-prevention program will include proper warm-ups and cool-downs, care with shoes, awareness of recovery principles, training on varying surfaces at varying pace, as well as using gentle stretches appropriate to the training being undertaken. The simple stretches we see runners do are in fact the best: the popular stretches for hamstring, quad, calf, glute, ITB etc are all useful as part of a warm-up and cool-down procedure and can be a combination of static and dynamic stretches.

2. When do runners need to stretch? I recommend a good warm-up first before doing any stretching, and to do a few gentle stretches before any speed-work or racing. Focus on problem areas: I have a stiff lower back these days so I like to do back exercises and mobility work before attempting a quick run. But stretching becomes more important when recovering from injury. Your sports physiotherapist is likely to prescribe stretching when muscle tissue is being rebuilt. Targeted stretching, along with ice, heat, massage, strengthening as advised by your physiotherapist, will all help with healing of injuries.

3. Why do some runners never stretch? I think it is because they have run for years without getting injured and without ever stretching. To a great extent, stretching is over-rated. But later in a running career stretching and mobility work and massage become more beneficial and useful and necessary than earlier on.

4. If some flexibility is good, is more flexibility better? Flexibility for its own sake should not be your goal. Not many ballet dancers or gymnasts can run well. Core strength and stability should be the goal of the runner. A certain level of flexibility should be maintained, but too much flexibility can cause problems, which is why many runners seem to get away without stretching at all; they manage to stay within a range of flexibility which keeps them out of trouble.

5. Can stretching cause injury? Indeed it can. All stretching should be gentle, and dynamic stretching should be within a comfortable range of motion. Definitely warm up the muscles before stretching them. Can stretching prevent injury? Possibly but you need to be strong too. I emphasise these two points again, because they are so important.

Make flexibility and strength part of your daily routine and you will have an excellent foundation for staying fit and healthy indefinitely.

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