Stretch It Out

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Everything stretches, the tip of your toes seems so far and you never felt so old and so tied as in this moment.
Whichever is the sport you practice, there’s one thing there is no escape from: stretching.

So lets try to unmask false myths and urban legends on the argument with who deals with it closely.
My name is Andrea, I am 26 and I graduated in Medicine and Surgery in 2014 at the university Tor Vergata in Rome with a dissertation on the reconstruction of the Anterior Cruciate Ligament.
Currently I am a regular doctor in the Orthopedic and Traumatology unit of the general hospital Tor Vergata, where I mostly deal with sport traumatology.
Stretching: favorable or unfavorable?
 
With no doubts stretching is a fundamental practice to increase muscular flexibility, to prevent trauma, to rehabilitate muscles and to increment athletics performances. All of the above provided that it is done in specific training sessions.
I know you are going to give me a long list of scientific names and for many it will seem like a boring episode of Medicina 33, but I have to ask you: which are the mostly stressed muscles in running?
 
Let’s start saying that running can be divided into three phases: cushioning, supporting and pushing. In each phase different muscles are involved.
  • Cushioning phase: the supporting foot is ahed of the body barycenter.
    The forefoot makes contact with the ground and there’s the contemporary action of quadriceps, hamstrings and gluteus maximus.
    These intervene, thanks also to the action of the triceps, to sustain the hip articulation and reduce traumas caused by the impact of the foot on the ground.
  • Supporting phase: the foot is in axis with the body barycenter.
    Muscles contract isometrically to help the body stability.
  • Pushing phase: the foot is behind the body barycenter.
    Muscles use their strength to push the body forward and detente of the leg takes place.
    In this phase the posterior muscles work and the foot is detente on the metatarsus.
The leg extension takes place thanks to the femoris quadriceps, for the extension both of the hip and of the thigh.
The lifting of the leg forward is made possible thanks to the hip flexors, then follows the flexion of the ankle forward, thanks to the action of the anterior tibialis, the fingers extensor, the toe extensor and the anterior peroneal.
In addition to the legs which other parts of the body are involved in running?
 
The muscles involved in running are not only those of the lower limbs. Muscles of the pelvis and the upper body are involved too, and work as stabilizers during the hole movement; the respiration accessory muscles as well as the pectorals and the latissimus dorsi, and the muscles designated to the swinging movement of the upper limbs.
So it’s definitively a much more complete activity than what you might think. Going back to stretching, at which time of the training is it more useful to practice?
 
First of all we must separate between static stretching and dynamic stretching.
As for the first one, you concentrate on one position and after reaching it SLOWLY you hold it, possibly with no pain. Fundamental, for this kind of exercise, is NOT to spring and NOT to stop breathing. This type of stretching increases the range of joint movement and reduces the muscle-tendon stiffness which is essential for the pushing phase. It is appropriate to carry it out in specific training sessions and after an initial warm up.
The second type uses controlled legs movements, in order to improve the movement range. As for the beginning the movements will be controlled and then the intensity will be increased. This type seems more appropriate to perform as a warm up for running, as it helps to loosen the muscles, increases heart rate, body temperature and blood flow.
After learning that there are more types of stretching and not for all of them you need to be as flexible as Umberto Bolle, can you tell me which are the “must do” exercises for runners?
 
Before running you should perform dynamic stretching exercises, this means joint mobility. Especially, you will have to work on the hips and ankles joints: the exercises you might do are squats in various positions of the feet (intra/extra rotation), or “toe and heel walk”, posterior and side lunges and “walking groiner”.
I’ll keep a note of all the names of the exercise which, excluding the “summer hit” for summer preparation, the squat, I’ll have to Google before the next training. What about static stretching?
 
Static stretching sessions should include all the anterior and posterior musculature of the lower limbs, try not to forget muscles like anterior and posterior tibial, and the paravertebral and upper limbs musculature.
What can you tell us regarding the length of the exercises? There’s pretty much confusion on that.
 
There is not a rigorous timing for stretching. Anyhow you should reach, gradually, the complete stretching position and hold it between 30 and 60 seconds. Dynamic stretching sessions should last about 15 minutes in order not to stress the muscles too much and avoid an eccessive fatigue that could interfere with the following training.
In the last few months we saw the Foam Roller trend spreading out, is it just something temporary or is it truly useful?
 
Foam Rollers are used to simulate the techniques of “self miofascial release” (SMR), that are those used to loosen the tension of muscular fascia, a cartilage tissue which envelopes the muscle. The effects of this technique are still being analyzed, anyway this type of massage can be an effective intervention to improve joint range and muscular performance. It is appropriate to say that all of this is still under research.
One last question, in your opinion will science one day manage to make Stefano Cilla touch his toes?
 
Science is something serious but we are working on miracles.

 

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