A shift has been occurring in the running world over recent years. This transition has been from the generations old notion that stretching is the most useful tool a runner has in their tool bag in regards to staying pain-free, preventing injury, recovering/warming up around running and improving performance.
Whilst stretching is not necessarily something to be avoided, recent research has shown that it in fact has very little impact on injury prevention and recovery from injury, along with the evidence that has been present for years that demonstrates that long duration stretching (>45second holds) actually causes an immediate decrease in the strength output of the stretched muscle group. To put it simply, we have seen that stretching a muscle actually makes it weaker immediately after.
Taking this research into account, I will tend to give patients a stretch if, through assessment, it is demonstrated that they are stiff through a specific joint or range of movement that is relevant to the injury they are presenting with. However I often have the discussion with patients to avoid excessive stretching as a fix all remedy, as the research is clear, that this is not the case. In some specific circumstances as well (read hip injuries) excessive stretching is often a key factor to why a patients pain is worsening, and a big part of my job is educating them as to why it is best for them to shelve those techniques in the short term.
Strength and conditioning exercise however has been shown through multiple studies and reviews recently to not only reduce the incidence of overuse injuries by up to 1/3, but also benefit a number of performance factors as well. These benefits include improved time trial performance, running economy, power (amount of force that can be developed against the ground, i.e run faster, jump higher, maximal speed and the obvious improvement being muscular strength.
All together, the recent research has been overwhelming in demonstrating the benefits that strength and conditioning exercise can provide to all runners, no matter what your distance, and debunks the common myth that such exercise will only serve to make a runner heavier and slower.
Considering this evidence, it is important to note that strength and conditioning exercise is not without its own risks, and that incorrect exercise selection, program design and technique carrying the potential to cause injury in its own right. As such, it is always important to consult a health professional (physiotherapist or exercise physiologist) to ensure that your strength program is appropriate, tailored for your needs, including the right exercises and performed correctly to deliver the many benefits outlined above.
This article is the first in a series of three articles covering this topic. Following on from here the next 2 installments will cover exactly what types of strength and conditioning exercises have been proven through research to lead to these benefits and help you figure out what type may be suitable for you depending on your current situation and goals.
The release of this 2 part series will coincide with a more in depth look into the use of these methods during our upcoming marathon workshop, but also greater insight into their practical application in injury prevention, rehabilitation and performance enhancement.