Static stretching has long been considered a staple as part of a warm-up for cyclists, and most other exercise programs and athletic events. However, studies offer mixed findings on its benefits. Research over the last few years has shown that static stretching just prior to an event or activity may be detrimental to the performance of that activity, while other research has found it to have little to no effect on injury prevention during physical activity and post workout muscle recovery.
When preparing for an activity, dynamic warm-ups, a series of active single- or multi-joint movements taken through the full available range of motion, have been found to be superior to static stretching.
Although pre-activity static stretching may decrease activity performance, stretching as part of your training routine is still beneficial, believes Gregory Reardon, DPT, CSCS, doctor of physical therapy and certified strength and conditioning specialist at Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation Services of the North Shore-LIJ Health System, Manhasset, NY.
“Muscles and other tissue structures can become shortened based on posture, prolonged positioning or certain movement or holding patterns. Shortened tissues can alter alignment and biomechanics, which can affect efficiency of movement and cause pain,” he explains.
Static stretching can allow for improving and maintaining joint range of motion by improving tissue length and muscle length-tension relationships.
About.com spoke with Dr. Reardon about the importance of proper stretching technique.
About.com: Why is proper technique important?
Dr. Reardon: Technique with static stretching is important. If a person does not maintain proper alignment, or they put themselves in an incorrect position to stretch a specific muscle, they will not get the desired effect. The muscle will not lengthen and there will be no improvement in flexibility or joint ROM. Additionally, incorrect positioning may place stresses in other locations throughout the body, which can lead to injury.
About.com: What are some tips you can give cyclists for proper stretching?
Dr. Reardon: Just prior to static stretching, you should use a foam roller as a self-massage tool, to treat muscle restrictions, improve muscle tissue density and help restore length tension relationships. This will help to improve the responsiveness of the muscle prior to stretching.
Stretching should not cause pain, particularly in other areas that are not the intended muscle to be stretched. Differentiate between a stretching in the intended muscle or pain. Remember, there is a difference between a feeling of a stretch and pain.
Hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds and up to one minute to allow for efficient muscle lengthening.
About.com: Feel free to include anything else.
Dr. Reardon: Foam rolling with static stretching can be performed prior to a dynamic warm-up. Spend about 5-10 minutes doing so before beginning the dynamic warm-up. This should not be detrimental to your athletic performance or work out.
Utilizing contract-relax or hold-relax PNF techniques is a nice way to get more of a stretch and increased muscle lengthening.
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