December 15, 2017

To Stretch or Not To Stretch

Alyson Wolfe

Most athletes do it, regardless of the sport they are training for and the goals they are trying to accomplish in their training. Stretching has been ingrained in the psyche of almost all athletes as the proper way to warm up and get muscles ready for the work they are about to perform. But why do people stretch? To get the muscles warm? To prevent injury? Research is showing that common static stretches performed by millions of athletes around the world might not do anything of the sort.

Many triathletes spend hundreds of hours per year preparing for competitions. Many times, gains in performance are limited by the incorporation of poor pre-race training techniques, including static stretching before workouts. Some effects of static stretching have a negative effect on power output leading to a decrease in performance.

There are a number of choices that should be considered as an alternative. Before we decide on which type of stretching technique should be performed, we must look at what we are trying to accomplish to be successful in a race or in training. In triathlons, we are trying to maintain an optimal power output level throughout the entire race, which will not dramatically differ from one event to the next.

We do not want to impede the process of optimal power output of muscles by incorporating the wrong training techniques that could decrease power production. The question is, which type of stretching exercises will provide the best possible result and not limit power?

The two most common forms of stretching are static and active (dynamic.) Static stretching lengthens the muscles by holding a stretch for a period of time. Dynamic stretching involves active movements such as arm circles, leg swings and shoulder shrugs.

From a physiological perspective, dynamic stretching is the preferred choice and can be part of every triathlete’s pre-race routine. It is the preferred choice because static stretching can interfere with the muscles ability to create power resulting in a negative impact in performance. Studies have shown that static stretching decreases the dynamic strength of the muscle and some research professionals feel that static stretching may put the athlete at a greater risk of injury.

Static stretching causes the muscle to lengthen, which can reduce the ability of the muscle to recoil or contract forcefully. The application of power is dependent on the ability to produce a quick contraction, especially during a race. A muscle that is statically stretched prior to the competition will not have the capability to perform this type of contraction at an optimal level.

If the goal is to maintain power, athletes should be involved in a limited, non-aggressive, dynamic stretching program prior to the competition. Some athletes may be tight in certain areas or dealing with injury. Under these circumstances, a limited amount of static stretching could be considered. Foam rollers are another great alternative. They will loosen the muscle and get the blood flowing without lengthening the muscle.

For more information on the proper use of pre-race stretching please consult a professional. The knowledgeable staff at Triathica will be happy to help.

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