It is generally believed by the public that stretching is essential prior to physical activities in order to prevent injuries. While stretching can help to stay injury-free and improve performance in some sports, it is often overemphasized. In this blog post, we will look at the literature about stretching and discuss the best methods for injury prevention.
Stretching Vs strength training: what's best for injury prevention?
A meta-analysis by Lauersen et al. looked at different studies regarding exercise interventions and concluded that stretching programs have no positive effects for injury prevention. On the other hand, strength training was found to reduce sports injuries by 1/3, and overuse injuries can be almost halved. That said, there are sports in which flexibility is important and stretching should not be neglected.
For which sports is stretching important?
Sports such as martial arts, gymnastics and hurdling require a high level of flexibility. Attempting a high kick with inadequate flexibility would most likely result in a hamstring strain. Therefore, a stretching program should be personalized to the movements required by the athlete. Static stretching is the most effective way to improve flexibility and range of motion.
Do you have to stretch before running?
Running does not require a great amount of flexibility. As far as you can bring one foot in front of the other and swing your arms, that's all the flexibility that you need. It is common to see runners dedicating time to stretch because they believe it helps to stay injury-free. Nothing wrong with that if it feels good, but I would argue that many runners would be better off spending their time strengthening their calves, quads and glutes, since most running injuries are caused by overuse, and resistance training is more effective in reducing that.
What else is important for injury prevention?
Many injuries are caused by increasing training intensity too quickly. If you are picking up a new sport, or returning to play after a long time of inactivity, it is recommended to ease into the activity and increase the intensity in a progressive way. Also, remember to give enough time to your body to recover in-between sessions, since training too frequently can increase the chances of overuse injuries.
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