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Stretching, The Truth – Q&A with Chris Allan (PART 1)

We’ve had the privilege of sharing a discussion we had with Physiotherapist Chris Allan about Stretching! It’s an interesting topic where the aim is to stimulate some thinking about WHY and HOW we stretch and what we THINK is really happening in our body by doing this sometimes ARCHAIC, sometimes USEFUL technique!

Chris is a highly accomplished physio who runs the performance and rehabilitation center at “Velocity Sports Lab” in Hout Bay, Cape Town.  He is currently the Chairperson of the Western Cape Sports Interest group of the South African Sport Physiotherapy (SASP). He holds a MPhil in Sports Physiotherapy from University of Cape Town with a distinction for his dissertation on the “Biomechanics of Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome during running”.

Chris lectures in the UCT MSc. Physiotherapy program, as well as the SASP Cape town Sport Physiotherapy 1 course.  He uses a very practical approach in his lecturing, focusing on a clinically reasoned approach to patients.  Chris has also done a lot of the endurance sports events he supports, including ten Two Oceans Marathons, four PUFFER ultra-trail runs and the ABSA Cape Epic to name a few.”

This article follows a Q & A style between Chris Allan (CA) and Nick Pereira (NP)


Advice to the physically active public:

To stretch or not to stretch – that is the question!

NP: Are static and dynamic stretches both irrelevant?

CA: Definitely not BUT (and it’s a big BUT), stretches need to be done for the correct reason, at the correct time and in the correct manner. For instance, a static hamstring stretch, for a ballet dancer trying to get more range might be appropriate, if performed correctly. But it’s not appropriate for a runner or soccer player about to be sent onto the field. They would do better with dynamic type mobility routines.

NP: “I feel ‘looser’ after I stretch” – why do I feel this way?

CA: Tightness and looseness (is that a word?) are sensations and not measurable things. Flexibility is the measurable thing. So, when a person “feels” tight, their muscle is probably in a state of contraction trying to protect itself from weakness or being too long. When you stretch this sensation goes way and you “feel” better. But because it was a protective response, you are possibly more prone to injury now.

NP: Pre-Exercise vs. Post Exercise – is there any place for static stretching in 2018?

CA: Static stretching has a place when trying to increase range. So, during rehab when trying to regain full range and in sports when larger range is necessary, like ballet, martial arts and gymnastics. But static stretching needs to be done with caution. If a person has areas of scarring, the stretch will often stretch the uninjured part of the muscle more than the scar tissue, creating an imbalance within the muscle. So once again, stretch with a clearly defined reason!

NP: Some people stretch to reduce muscle soreness or DOMS caused by exercise? Thoughts on this?

CA: I haven’t read any research that proves this. Active rest (doing activities with appropriate range and minimal resistance) is preferable to stretching. And doing cool down mobility type exercises.

NP: If the desired effect of stretching is ‘recovering our muscles’ – what should active people do instead?

CA: Mobility type exercises. That is, taking joints through appropriate ranges of motion with minimal tension from stretching or resistance. Flowing movements that engage the correct motor patterns and help loosen joints and muscles.

NP: If the desired effect of stretching is “making our muscles longer” or ‘becoming more flexible’ – what should we do instead?

CA: If that is what you want to achieve then stretching, done appropriately, may be called for (dancers). But all fibrous, fascial and neural restrictions need to be loosened first, and when the stretch is performed, only the muscles to be lengthened should be stretched. Don’t stretch so far that the areas above and below are put under strain.

NP: How does foam rolling and other soft tissue ‘self-releasing’ techniques compare to stretching?

CA: Once again the reasons need to be clearly defined and the methods chosen accordingly. Don’t just roll to roll. Choose the correct muscle or part of the muscle and roll that. And try use movement of the muscle over the roller etc. to enhance proper movement as opposed to just “ironing” over the muscle. E.g flexing and extending the knee whilst lying with quads on a roller.

*END OF PART 1 – Join in next week when we chat some more with Chris about stretching and prescription for physio’s, bio’s sports scientists, coaches and the active public!