Stretching: The Truth

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Stretching: The Truth

Postby tallywhacker » Wed Nov 12, 2008 2:10 pm

an interesting article in the NY Times (pasted here as you need to login to read it). I'm old school warm up (10-15 minutes riding followed by static stretching) but may give this a go.

WHEN DUANE KNUDSON, a professor of kinesiology at California State University, Chico, looks around campus at athletes warming up before practice, he sees one dangerous mistake after another. “They’re stretching, touching their toes. . . . ” He sighs. “It’s discouraging.”

If you’re like most of us, you were taught the importance of warm-up exercises back in grade school, and you’ve likely continued with pretty much the same routine ever since. Science, however, has moved on. Researchers now believe that some of the more entrenched elements of many athletes’ warm-up regimens are not only a waste of time but actually bad for you. The old presumption that holding a stretch for 20 to 30 seconds — known as static stretching — primes muscles for a workout is dead wrong. It actually weakens them. In a recent study conducted at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, athletes generated less force from their leg muscles after static stretching than they did after not stretching at all. Other studies have found that this stretching decreases muscle strength by as much as 30 percent. Also, stretching one leg’s muscles can reduce strength in the other leg as well, probably because the central nervous system rebels against the movements.

“There is a neuromuscular inhibitory response to static stretching,” says Malachy McHugh, the director of research at the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. The straining muscle becomes less responsive and stays weakened for up to 30 minutes after stretching, which is not how an athlete wants to begin a workout.

THE RIGHT WARM-UP should do two things: loosen muscles and tendons to increase the range of motion of various joints, and literally warm up the body. When you’re at rest, there’s less blood flow to muscles and tendons, and they stiffen. “You need to make tissues and tendons compliant before beginning exercise,” Knudson says.

A well-designed warm-up starts by increasing body heat and blood flow. Warm muscles and dilated blood vessels pull oxygen from the bloodstream more efficiently and use stored muscle fuel more effectively. They also withstand loads better. One significant if gruesome study found that the leg-muscle tissue of laboratory rabbits could be stretched farther before ripping if it had been electronically stimulated — that is, warmed up.

To raise the body’s temperature, a warm-up must begin with aerobic activity, usually light jogging. Most coaches and athletes have known this for years. That’s why tennis players run around the court four or five times before a match and marathoners stride in front of the starting line. But many athletes do this portion of their warm-up too intensely or too early. A 2002 study of collegiate volleyball players found that those who’d warmed up and then sat on the bench for 30 minutes had lower backs that were stiffer than they had been before the warm-up. And a number of recent studies have demonstrated that an overly vigorous aerobic warm-up simply makes you tired. Most experts advise starting your warm-up jog at about 40 percent of your maximum heart rate (a very easy pace) and progressing to about 60 percent. The aerobic warm-up should take only 5 to 10 minutes, with a 5-minute recovery. (Sprinters require longer warm-ups, because the loads exerted on their muscles are so extreme.) Then it’s time for the most important and unorthodox part of a proper warm-up regimen, the Spider-Man and its counterparts.

“TOWARDS THE end of my playing career, in about 2000, I started seeing some of the other guys out on the court doing these strange things before a match and thinking, What in the world is that?” says Mark Merklein, 36, once a highly ranked tennis player and now a national coach for the United States Tennis Association. The players were lunging, kicking and occasionally skittering, spider-like, along the sidelines. They were early adopters of a new approach to stretching.

While static stretching is still almost universally practiced among amateur athletes — watch your child’s soccer team next weekend — it doesn’t improve the muscles’ ability to perform with more power, physiologists now agree. “You may feel as if you’re able to stretch farther after holding a stretch for 30 seconds,” McHugh says, “so you think you’ve increased that muscle’s readiness.” But typically you’ve increased only your mental tolerance for the discomfort of the stretch. The muscle is actually weaker.

Stretching muscles while moving, on the other hand, a technique known as dynamic stretching or dynamic warm-ups, increases power, flexibility and range of motion. Muscles in motion don’t experience that insidious inhibitory response. They instead get what McHugh calls “an excitatory message” to perform.

Dynamic stretching is at its most effective when it’s relatively sports specific. “You need range-of-motion exercises that activate all of the joints and connective tissue that will be needed for the task ahead,” says Terrence Mahon, a coach with Team Running USA, home to the Olympic marathoners Ryan Hall and Deena Kastor. For runners, an ideal warm-up might include squats, lunges and “form drills” like kicking your buttocks with your heels. Athletes who need to move rapidly in different directions, like soccer, tennis or basketball players, should do dynamic stretches that involve many parts of the body. “Spider-Man” is a particularly good drill: drop onto all fours and crawl the width of the court, as if you were climbing a wall. (For other dynamic stretches, see the sidebar below.)

Even golfers, notoriously nonchalant about warming up (a recent survey of 304 recreational golfers found that two-thirds seldom or never bother), would benefit from exerting themselves a bit before teeing off. In one 2004 study, golfers who did dynamic warm- up exercises and practice swings increased their clubhead speed and were projected to have dropped their handicaps by seven strokes over seven weeks.

Controversy remains about the extent to which dynamic warm-ups prevent injury. But studies have been increasingly clear that static stretching alone before exercise does little or nothing to help. The largest study has been done on military recruits; results showed that an almost equal number of subjects developed lower-limb injuries (shin splints, stress fractures, etc.), regardless of whether they had performed static stretches before training sessions. A major study published earlier this year by the Centers for Disease Control, on the other hand, found that knee injuries were cut nearly in half among female collegiate soccer players who followed a warm-up program that included both dynamic warm-up exercises and static stretching. (For a sample routine, visit www.aclprevent.com/pepprogram.htm .) And in golf, new research by Andrea Fradkin, an assistant professor of exercise science at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, suggests that those who warm up are nine times less likely to be injured.

“It was eye-opening,” says Fradkin, formerly a feckless golfer herself. “I used to not really warm up. I do now.”

You’re Getting Warmer: The Best Dynamic Stretches

These exercises- as taught by the United States Tennis Association’s player-development program – are good for many athletes, even golfers. Do them immediately after your aerobic warm-up and as soon as possible before your workout.

STRAIGHT-LEG MARCH

(for the hamstrings and gluteus muscles)

Kick one leg straight out in front of you, with your toes flexed toward the sky. Reach your opposite arm to the upturned toes. Drop the leg and repeat with the opposite limbs. Continue the sequence for at least six or seven repetitions.

SCORPION

(for the lower back, hip flexors and gluteus muscles)

Lie on your stomach, with your arms outstretched and your feet flexed so that only your toes are touching the ground. Kick your right foot toward your left arm, then kick your leftfoot toward your right arm. Since this is an advanced exercise, begin slowly, and repeat up to 12 times.

HANDWALKS

(for the shoulders, core muscles, and hamstrings)

Stand straight, with your legs together. Bend over until both hands are flat on the ground. “Walk” with your hands forward until your back is almost extended. Keeping your legs straight, inch your feet toward your hands, then walk your hands forward again. Repeat five or six times. G.R.

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by BNA » Wed Nov 12, 2008 2:32 pm

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Postby Strawburger » Wed Nov 12, 2008 2:32 pm

A guy i play football (soccer) with is a fairly decent physio (lecturer at a university) and backs this theory up. I have had a few chats with him about methods of warming up. He strongly believes that the static warm-up does nothing to help the muscles. He prefers a jog around followed by some lateral movement is all he does. I can't remember the last time he was injured (barring contact with another person).

We are seeing the methods described above being used more often through the junior representitive teams through to the A league. I can see the old school method of being an ameteur contortionist being a thing of the past.

What is the usual warm up for the pro cyclist before jumping on a bike (stationary or otherwise)?
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Postby MichaelB » Wed Nov 12, 2008 3:31 pm

What about post ride stretching ?
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Postby tallywhacker » Wed Nov 12, 2008 3:54 pm

for the pros I think thats called "massage"
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Postby sogood » Wed Nov 12, 2008 4:26 pm

MichaelB wrote:What about post ride stretching ?

+1.

I find a little post ride stretching helpful in preventing cramps on future rides.
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Postby sittingbison » Wed Nov 12, 2008 5:07 pm

tallywhacker wrote:for the pros I think thats called "massage"


+1 sothere

BTW I suppose thats why in soccer the subs jog up and down the sideline kind of hopping and swinging a knee/leg across the body
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Postby wombatK » Wed Nov 12, 2008 7:19 pm

MichaelB wrote:What about post ride stretching ?

If you check out the NYtimes website, there's a very good video featuring Mark Kovacs, manager of sports science for the United States Tennis Association in Boca Raton, Fla., explaining the benefits of dynamic stretching and demonstrating a variety of dynamic stretches. Right near the end, he says, don't forget the static stretches - do them at the end.

Well worth registering with NYTimes just to get this.

For those who've registerd, the url for the article is http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/02/sport ... XypHbdzaCA
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Postby Ant. » Wed Nov 12, 2008 9:03 pm

Alright well, that kinesiologist can roll his eyes as much as he wants; I'm still going to stretch as per what one of the leading sports medicine doctors in Australia thinks (of course he would downplay this title, none of us students would though)


But I'd love to see some people do the spider man before a race :lol:
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Postby Hroethbert » Thu Nov 13, 2008 8:38 am

I was reading some research recently that suggested that a static stretch is only good for your muscles for the first two seconds of the stretch, beyond that the muscle starts to contract and you actualy start to do harm. I think the above article seems to agree with this theory somewhat. I have been giving this a go lately, and I have been able to increase my average speed over my training circuit, hill climbing is definately improved.

Post ride stretching is a cert in my books, especially when you are still warm, I recover much faster when I do then when I get slack about it and don't stretch after a ride.
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Postby sogood » Thu Nov 13, 2008 8:44 am

When there are so much conflicting data relating to a biological question, then you are better to view it as snake oil until proven otherwise.
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Postby tallywhacker » Thu Nov 13, 2008 9:24 am

I can understand the need for dynamic/static stretching for certain sports but is it necessary for cycling ? Is a slow warmup ride all that is needed ?
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Postby Hroethbert » Thu Nov 13, 2008 12:13 pm

“You need range-of-motion exercises that activate all of the joints and connective tissue that will be needed for the task ahead"


This is the guts of it I think and I doubt that anyone would disagree with that.

My experience is that stretching is very beneficial to recovery and performance on the bike.

Ten reps of two second stretches, forget about that holding for 30 second stuff, that just hurts. :D
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Postby sogood » Thu Nov 13, 2008 1:47 pm

Hroethbert wrote:
“You need range-of-motion exercises that activate all of the joints and connective tissue that will be needed for the task ahead"

This is the guts of it I think and I doubt that anyone would disagree with that.

My experience is that stretching is very beneficial to recovery and performance on the bike.

Ten reps of two second stretches, forget about that holding for 30 second stuff, that just hurts. :D

Your joints aren't going to seize up on you if you don't put it through its motions before you get on the bike. Those joints will soon get through their range of motions once you start pedaling. And as for stretching, the benefit may just be limited to post ride, not pre-ride.
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Postby Tom Marius » Thu Nov 13, 2008 2:34 pm

tallywhacker wrote:I can understand the need for dynamic/static stretching for certain sports but is it necessary for cycling ? Is a slow warmup ride all that is needed ?


That's all i do, just go a bit easier and spin faster at the beginning of a ride before you start to kill yourself :)
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Postby Hroethbert » Thu Nov 13, 2008 2:51 pm

Your joints aren't going to seize up on you if you don't put it through its motions before you get on the bike.


I doubt that they would to (sieze up).

However pre-ride stretching helps your body in the transition from inactivity to exertion by raising tissue temperature and metabolism and stretched muscles are less likely to cramp or be torn.
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Postby mikesbytes » Thu Nov 13, 2008 2:57 pm

Improved flexibility will permit you to be get into a more aerodynamic position and therefor be quicker.

Now how do I get to be more flexible?
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Postby sogood » Thu Nov 13, 2008 3:01 pm

Hroethbert wrote:However pre-ride stretching helps your body in the transition from inactivity to exertion by raising tissue temperature and metabolism and stretched muscles are less likely to cramp or be torn.

You should differentiate stretching and just general joint movement.

AFAIR, deliberate stretching of cold muscles, ligaments and tendons may actually detrimental or offers no benefit. So stretching those soft tissues is a poor preparation for any physical activity. To warm up, one can easily do a short jog or just get on a bike and ride easy for the first 10mins. Whether one stretches after the exercise is a totally different story to this pre-exercise stretching activities.
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Postby sogood » Thu Nov 13, 2008 3:02 pm

mikesbytes wrote:Improved flexibility will permit you to be get into a more aerodynamic position and therefor be quicker.

Now how do I get to be more flexible?

Yoga class after your bike ride! :P
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Postby Hroethbert » Thu Nov 13, 2008 3:54 pm

AFAIR, deliberate stretching of cold muscles, ligaments and tendons may actually detrimental


For static and ballistic stretching that would be a big and resounding yes.

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Postby Ant. » Thu Nov 13, 2008 7:33 pm

mikesbytes wrote:Improved flexibility will permit you to be get into a more aerodynamic position and therefor be quicker.

Now how do I get to be more flexible?

Do the spider man before every ride :shock: :lol:
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Postby chris641 » Thu Nov 13, 2008 9:58 pm

I think everyone needs to do one lap of the spiderman around the crit track before a race.. would make for some interesting viewing :)
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Postby Bnej » Sat Nov 15, 2008 9:41 am

I read about this about a year ago and stopped stretching at all.

I do a warm up on the bike in the form of riding a brisk but low stress pace at first.

Stretching seems to be one of those things that is a hypothesis, which becomes "known fact", with no actual research to demonstrate that it works first. You'll "feel better" yourself, because you believe it will make you feel better - but actual injury rates and performance are not affected.

Antioxidant supplements have been another. It was theorised that they were the element of fresh veg/fruit that would have impact on your health, vast quantities were sold, but when actual research was done, no impact or mild negative impacts were found.

I think you can generally assume that the body looks after itself pretty well if you don't mess with it too much. ;)
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Postby zoom bean » Sat Nov 15, 2008 10:05 am

mikesbytes wrote:Now how do I get to be more flexible?

Goat placenta? Monkey sweat?... Some kind of electric hat?
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