Section One: Background
Reason for selection of the Article
The article selected for the purpose of the review is titled “Impact of stretching on the performance and injury risk of long-distance runners” and focuses on an in-depth analysis of the current state of literature associated with stretching and recommends actions for athletes (Baxter, Naughton, Sparks, Norton, & Bentley, 2017). The concept of stretching is internationally recognized as an integral part of not only preparation but also performance. Stretching is applied in various sports disciplines as an avenue of training, preparation, performance enhancement in addition to injury prevention. Despite the popularity of the concept of stretching in all sporting activities, research in recent years suggests that the application of stretching in efforts of improving performance was grounded in assumption rather than science thus the controversy.
The article was selected since it illustrates the concept of applying stretching for conditioning to perform in the field in addition to showcasing how long-distance runners can utilize and incorporate stretching to enhance performance. Research associated with stretching indicates that it has application beyond preparation and performance enhancement to encompass increasing the range of motion and recovery (Apostolopoulos, Metsios, Flouris, Koutedakis, & Wyon, 2015). Stretching is defined as the application of a certain degree of force to musculotendinous with the intention of changing their length in efforts of improving joint range of motion, reducing the occurrences of stiffness in addition to facilitating the conditioning for physical activity (Sands, Mcneal, Murray, & Ramsey, 2013). The article was selected since it goes beyond illustrating the application of stretching in conditioning and performance to acknowledging the scientific controversy associated with the topic. Moreover, the research paper is essentially a systematic review that concentrates on available literature over the past two decades as such providing insight on the expansion of stretching research in the past years.
The concept of stretching before a performance in the field or as a long-term intervention has conventionally been recognized as a technique of improving performance for individuals involved in various sporting activities including those who merely exercise as a hobby. Stretching is applied for different purposely including warming up, increased flexibility, the therapeutic aspect of reducing soreness and stiffness among others (Apostolopoulos, Metsios, Flouris, Koutedakis, & Wyon, 2015). Stretching that is applied as a preparatory intervention is intended to assist endurance runners bulk activities associated with actual training or performance in the field. Stretching in efforts of increasing flexibility, on the other hand, seeks to enhance stretch tolerance by putting the body in positions that stress various muscles and tendons. Stretching for therapeutic purposes is intended as an injury recovery aspect since it is distinct and assists an individual in restoring the body to its previous healthier condition. It is evident that stretching is applied for different purposes as such acknowledged as somewhat paradoxical (Sands, Mcneal, Murray, & Ramsey, 2013).
Stretching has various categorizations from active or passive, static or dynamic and acute or chronic. Active stretching describes a training where the limb position is its extreme range of motion position as illustrated by the tension achieved from the agonist’s muscles. Active stretching is considered strenuous since it is contrasted by the antagonist muscles’ elastic, which results in resistance. Passive training, on the other hand, encompasses placing a joint in an extreme range of motion position but it is supported by gravity or inertia as such reducing the strain associated with the activity. Static training is the most common type where there is the placement of the body and the limbs in an extreme range of motion position, and the individual holds the place for an extended period as supported by gravity, or a training partner (Damasceno et al., 2014). Dynamic stretching involves the movement of joints through a various range of motions positions without any long pauses or holds between the different locations. Acute stretching showcases stretching for short periods usually a single place that lasts for a mere thirty seconds. Chronic stretching, on the other hand, describes stretching that is applied as a long-term intervention which illustrates repeated stretching exercises over days and weeks.
There are many confusing assertions associated with stretching that has in recent years led to its categorization as a controversial topic in contemporary society. There are various inconsistencies across various literature which reveal that the concept of stretching has several implications in different sports disciplines (Bertuzzi, Lima-Silva, de O Pires, Damasceno, & Bueno, 2013). For instance, some researchers assert that stretching can influence the occurrence of the delayed onset muscle soreness usually abbreviated as DOMS. DOMS often occurs due to high intensity running or any other activity, and it leads to fatigue, pain and the general reduction in performance for a period of between 24 to 48 hours (Behm, Blazevich, Kay, & McHugh, 2016). The various consequences associated with DOMS can have devastating effects on an individual in any sporting activity.
Additionally, in the current society stretching is considered an essential tool of reducing the risk of injuries. However, chronic overuse of injuries due to stretching has devastating long-term consequences for the athlete or any other individual in different sporting disciplines. Therefore, it is essential to reflect and analyze stretching as a conditioning and performance enhancement tool in various dimensions to ensure its relevance in modern society sporting activities.
Baxter et al. (2017) applied a content analysis research design in the evaluation of the impact of stretching in the performance and injury risk of long-distance runners. Content analysis research design is essentially a systematic review where the researcher analyzes past studies and literature on the topic under consideration. Content analysis is neither qualitative nor quantitative method since it examines the writing on the issue whether they are quantitative or qualitative. Therefore, content analysis is essentially an intersection of the two research designs (Bengtsson, 2016). The premise of this particular research methodology is that knowledge is an incremental exercise. As such in efforts of understanding the specific condition of the current society it is necessary to review past literature and research in the topic.
Content analysis is different from other research methodologies since it does not require the primary or secondary collection of data from individuals. The researcher categorized the paper under various topics and subtopics in efforts of evaluating the topic exhaustively. The aspect of grouping data under similar topics and subtopics is one of the critical attributes of the content analysis research methodology. In this research methodology, the researcher collects data from different sources and then proceeds to identify and group data in seeking an understanding of the topic under investigation (Bengtsson, 2016). Ultimately, the research applies content analysis and therefore provides a systematic and objective technique that enables making valid inferences from verbal or written data in efforts of describing, analyzing or quantifying a particular phenomenon. In this specific case, the researcher provides a systematic review of written literature under stretching and its impact on performance and injury recovery of a long-distance runner.
Content analysis involves identifying an idea for investigation such as the impact of stretching on the performance and injury recovery for long-distance runners. The second step encompasses sampling the unit of analysis which entails the identification of how best the queries of the research can be addressed. Under data collection, the researcher determines the most efficient technique of selecting the past literature relevant to the current analysis. The process of analysis involves different techniques of compiling and categorizing information from previous studies. Many researchers prefer content analysis since it is cheap and does not include the challenges associated with conducting an actual research.
Section Two: Summary
Results and Discussion
The content analysis results and discussions were sub-divided in various topics including; does stretching improve flexibility? Are endurance runners flexible? Stretching and performance, acute stretching and performance, chronic effects of stretching and performance, stretching and delayed onset muscle soreness and stretching and chronic injury.
Does Stretching Improve Flexibility?
The research article concentrated on whether static stretching improves the flexibility of long-distance runners. The study asserted that thirty seconds is the most optimal time frame for static stretching and any increase beyond this time-frame does not provide any additional benefits. The research reported that flexibility is considered a result of regular stretching practices. Studies indicate that when static stretching is carried out regularly throughout six weeks, it is likely that flexibility is significantly improved (Baxter, Naughton, Sparks, Norton, & Bentley, 2017). As such, there is a difference between the effectiveness of acute and chronic stretching on flexibility.
Are Endurance runners Flexible?
The study reported that there is evidence to suggest that typically best long-distance runners are less flexible compared to their average competitors. The process of analyzing for flexibility involves an in-depth evaluation of the running economy. Running economy describes performance endurance of runners and is quantified by the energy demand of a runner at a particular velocity. Studies indicate that an individual with low flexibility is more likely to have the most economical running style. The relationship between the running economy and flexibility propose that the majority of the best long-distance athletes are not flexible. It is suggested that there is optimal flexibility for long-distance runners which also influences the likeness of an injury.
Stretching and Performance
The study initially describes long-distance runners as individuals that participate in events that are five kilometers or more prolonged. The concept of long-distance running is divided into two aspects, performance potential, and efficiency. Performance potential is affected by various physiological variables including aerobic capacity and the lactate threshold. Efficiency, on the other hand, interacts parallel to performance and varies about 30 to 40% among different long-distance runners (Sands, Mcneal, Murray, & Ramsey, 2013). The study acknowledges that running efficiency is dependent on various factors including joint mechanics, elastic attributes and muscle morphology. Therefore, stretching can impact a runner’s running efficiency. The research reports that studies on stretching and performance over the two decades have reported different results with some stating stretching improves performance, while others affirm that stretching practices reduce performance while other scholars state it has no significant impact either positively or negatively. Majority of researchers determine the performance of long-distance runners on the grounds of running economy. It is suggested acute training before an exercise impairs running economy as such adversely affecting performance. Although some researchers reported that acute training before an activity reduces vulnerability to explosive actions, no additional studies have shown the effectiveness of acute stretching on endurance runners.
Acute stretching and Performance
Majority of the athletes often apply acute stretching as a warming technique during both training and competition. However, a majority of research on the impact of acute stretching and endurance running suggest that stretching reduces the running economy as such adversely affecting performance. The argument is stretching reduces the mechanical efficiency of the lower body by lowering the musculotendinous stiffness, which refers to the unit’s ability to resist applied change particularly in length. While musculotendinous stiffness increases the risk of injury and decreases performance in the initial stage of the race, it is a desirable characteristic for long-distance runners. Therefore acute stretching prior to an activity as a warm-up technique does not affect accord endurance runners any advantages but somewhat decreases their running economy.
Chronic Effects of Stretching and Performance
Although acute stretching is disadvantageous to the long-distance runner especially when used as a warm-up regime, constant stretching increases flexibility and subsequently positively impacts the long-term performance of endurance runners. As such, so long as stretching is not performed immediately before the training or competition but rather applied as a long-term intervention, it is advantageous to the long-distance runners. While there are no studies that revealed whether running economy increases or decreases with chronic stretching, as previously reported, increased running economy is associated with inflexibility in long-distance runners. Therefore, it is suggested that long-distance runners should only incorporate limited amounts of chronic stretching to improve flexibility up to the recommended optimal point for the efficient running economy.
Stretching and Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
It is acknowledged that stretching, particularly acute stretching, prior to running may result in DOMS which adversely affects performance since it causes discomfort in the muscles. Initially, researchers postulated that stretching could be applied as a technique to reduce DOMS since DOMS was thought to be muscle soreness due to unfamiliar exercises. However, other researchers argue while stretching reduces DOMS its impact is too insignificant to warrant the inclusion of stretching as a warm-up procedure in long-distance runners. Others say that stretching does not improve the occurrence or duration of DOMS but instead it may influence its appearance.
Stretching and Chronic Injury
The literature on the association between stretching and injuries in long-distance runners has focused on chronic injuries. Majority of the studies reported that stretching has no impact on the risk of chronic injuries in long-distance runners. While it is argued steady stretching increases the compliance of muscle-tendon unit thus greater force production these advantages are only relevant to other sporting activities but not applicable to long-distance runners.
The article concluded that stretching, both acute and chronic, does not provide any significant advantages to long-distance runners. Acute stretching reduces the running economy as such adversely affecting performance by lowering the musculotendinous stiffness. Regarding the concept of DOMS, studies indicate that stretching does not diminish its duration or intensity. Additionally, the literature suggests that stretching does not reduce the occurrence of overuse injuries such as stress fractures that are common in most long-distance runners. The research indicated that stretching is advantageous to other sporting activities but not so much for endurance runners. The study advised endurance runners to invest in another warming up strategies since stretching is ineffective in altering performance or reducing injury risk. Moreover, it is essential for long-distance runners to individualize their training programs to ensure the highest possible running economy, mainly as associated with efficiency. In conclusion, it is evident stretching has no significant impact on endurance runners and therefore it is vital for the long-distance runners to use different strategies both as warm-up regimes and long-term intervention systems.
Apostolopoulos, N., Metsios, G., Flouris, A. D., Koutedakis, Y., & Wyon, M. (2015). The Relevance of Strenght intensity and Position- A systematic review. Frontiers in Psychology.
Baxter, C., Naughton, L. R., Sparks, A., Norton, L., & Bentley, D. (2017). Impact of stretching on the performance and injury risk of long-distance runners. Research in Sports Medicine: An International Journal, 25(1), 78-90.
Behm, D. G., Blazevich, A. J., Kay, A. D., & McHugh, M. (2016). Acute effects of stretching on physical performance, range of motion and injury incidence on health active individuals: A systematic review. Journal of Applied Psychology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 41(1).
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Bertuzzi, R., Lima-Silva, E. A., de O Pires, F., Damasceno, M. V., & Bueno, S. (2013). Pacing strategy determinants during a 10-km running time trial: Contribution of perceived effort, psychological and muscular parameters. Journal of Strength Condition Response.
Damasceno, M. V., Duarte, M., Pasqua, L. A., Lima-Silva, A. E., Maclntosh, B. R., & Bertuzzi, R. (2014). Statis stretching alters neuromuscular function and pacing strategy, but not performance for a 3 km running training. Plos One.
Sands, W. A., Mcneal, J., Murray, S. R., & Ramsey, M. (2013). Stretching and its effects on recovery: A review. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 35(5), 30-36.