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To Stretch or Not to Stretch…

Posted in: Education

Ed Kornoelje, DO
Sports Medicine | University of Michigan Health-West

Ever have deep discussions with friends while running?  I am sure many of you do—and so do I.  Sometimes my deeps discussion are life related, but sometimes running related.  One that I get involved with frequently has to do with stretching—should we or should we not, and if so how and when?  Here is the latest information on where we stand with stretching and flexibility research (and a QR code that will take you to some specific stretches that often help runners and other athletes):

  1. Light/recreational activities:
  2. Warm-up may consist of easing into the activity.
  3. No stretching or specific warm-up needed.
  4. Moderate to high intensity workouts:
  5. 10-20 minutes light aerobic exercise.
  6. 5-6 minutes stretching related to the sport or activity—if static stretch keep to 30 seconds or less.
  7. 5 min higher intensity aerobic activity as you move into workout.
  8. This can be shortened to the 10-minute light activity and 5 minute higher intensity activity without stretching for endurance events, but should include stretching for sprint-type sports/activities.
  9. Competition/race/game:
    1. Same as high intensity, but make sure sport/activity related.  If static stretch, allow longer time post stretch prior to starting the activity.
    1. Target muscle groups known to be at risk during a particular sport or activity.
    1. The bench players will need some further warm-up after initial warm-up.
  10. Chronic/ongoing extra stretching:
    1. If injured/recovering or tight in a specific area this is good to do.
    1. Certain skills/activities/positions where flexibility as at a premium (such as gymnasts or hurdlers) this is a good idea as well.
  11. Don’t change anything or change gradually—warm-up will be an individualized process.
  12. Cool-down with light activity for 5 minutes minimum to lower heart rate and body temperature.

The bottom line is that stretching is a very individualized activity.  There is no evidence that stretching in general helps us perform better or keeps us from getting injured in most situations.  If you are performing light activity, easing into that activity is all you need to do.  And if you like stretching that’s OK too—keep doing it.  For more strenuous activities, or if you are recovering from an injury, stretching is a better idea.  A gentle cool down (walking and/or stretching) is a good plan as well.  If you are feeling good, don’t change anything—if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!