Fit Facts: To Stretch or Not to Stretch

To Stretch or Not to Stretch

That's been the question lately with some studies suggesting that stretching right before a workout or race has little impact on performance. But a recent study begs to differ.

Researchers from Australia found that when cyclists stretched pre-workout, they produced greater power than when they didn't. Cyclists performed two hour-long workouts with their power output measured intermittently during 10-second sprint intervals.

Both sessions began with a warm-up, but one added 15 minutes of lower body stretches. Power levels were higher for all the participants in the stretching group. The results also showed that holding each stretch for 10 seconds and beginning the workout five minutes after stretching produced the best performance.

Even if the jury's still out on whether a pre-race stretch will help you reach your personal best, don't abandon stretching completely. Studies suggest that regular stretching, no matter when it's done, may reduce the chance of injury, especially for older athletes, as muscles lose flexibility with age.

Beat IT Band Blues

What started as a dull ache outside your knee now feels like a hot poker inside your joint. Sounds like the tongue-twisting iliotibial band syndrome--the most common cause of outside knee pain in runners. The IT band is a thick fiber on the outer side of your leg extending from your hip to your kneecap.

Researchers at Stanford University Medical Center believe the syndrome is caused by friction created when the band rubs against the bones of the knee joint as the leg bends and straightens repeatedly. Possible causes include too much running in the same direction -- especially on pitched roadways or banked tracks where one leg is lower than the other--too much downhill running, sudden big jumps in running distance or frequency, or worn-out shoes.

One-armed Exercise

If one arm or leg is on injured reserve, train the other. A recent study found that strengthening one limb can lead to increased strength in the other, citing gains of between 7 to 8 percent for the uninvolved limb as compared to 16 to 28 percent for the involved limb. Neurological "spillover" may explain it, say researchers, in which one limb accesses the neurological adaptations of the other.

Did You Know?

The optimal time between strength workouts is two to three days. Researchers at the University of Alabama found that you need at least 48 hours between weight-training sessions to give your muscles enough recovery time. And for best results, don't let the next session come more than 72 hours later.


Runner's lunge

This stretch loosens tight hamstrings and improves balance. Starting on your hands and knees, place your left foot between your hands, with your knee over your ankle, spine lengthened and chest forward. Slowly shift your weight back on to your right knee, extending and straightening your left leg until you feel the stretch in your left hamstring. Hold for five to 10 breaths, softening the elbows, relaxing the face and shoulders, and releasing the torso down toward the left knee with each exhale.

Less flexible? Keep your left knee bent. More flexible? Slide your left foot forward a few inches. -- Karen Dubs, author of the DVD, Flexible Warrior: Athletic Yoga for Triathletes,

By Frank Claps, M.Ed., C.S.C.S.

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