Monday, February 23, 2009

Does Stretching Improve Performance Or Help Prevent Exercise Related Injury?

Me and a gymnast at the old National Stadium
Alright folks, I have a controversial topic to discuss. Trainers, coaches and of course physios have for the longest time asked both elite athletes and patients to stretch be it for rehabilitation or in pursuit of improved performance.

Do physios, coaches and trainers advise and patients/athletes practice it out of habit, outdated beliefs or current best practice?

In this day and age, we want everything to be evidence based. But are there any evidence based benefits of stretching? Does stretching help prevent exercise related injury?

The  articles discussed by Shrier (2004) and Weldon and Hill (2003) are both systematic reviews. (A systematic review is a computer aided search for ALL randomized & controlled clinical trials, meaning it's top of the pile in terms of quality).

Well, with regards to improving performance, here's the evidence. In Shrier's review paper, only one article suggested running economy (running more efficiently) was improved. Four articles studied running speed or sprinting, with one study being beneficial, one detrimental while two was inconclusive.

The paper concluded that stretching does not help to improve maximum strength or how high you can jump. There is some evidence however, to suggest that regular stretching performed outside of the pre exercise period (and not stretching before exercise) improves strength, jump height and sprinting. 

In fact, a few studies actually show that stretching before exercise has actually shown to increase your chance of sustaining an injury. Especially so if you are an endurance athlete with reduced flexibility.

The evidence also suggests that stretching immediately prior to exercise is detrimental to activities that require isolated force or power. There is also insufficient evidence to show that it helps with running economy (running more efficiently).

Well, here you go, not quite what you expected right? I know what our patients are gonna ask us. What do we do? Do we still stretch or not? Here's my opinion based on my work and observations with our athletes and patients. 

1. Minimize pre exercise static stretching since it hinders power and maximum strength.
2. Do your pre game or exercise warmup with movements that simulate your sport.
3. Stretch after exercise or at a time not related to exercise since regular stretching helps.

Please email me if you want the articles.


Shrier, I. (2004). Does Stretching Improve Performance? A Systematic and Critical Review of the Literature. Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine. 14(5) p 267-273.

Wendon, SM and Hill, RH. (2003). The Efficacy of Stretching for Prevention of Exercise-related injury: A Systematic Review of the literature. Manual Therapy. 8(3) p 141-150

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Think Like A Real Estate Agent

How can you enjoy your running more each time you head out the door?

As any real estate or housing agent would say 'location, location, location.'
How many of you would run your same old training course over and over again and then wonder why you get bored.

As a brand new week beckons, make it a point to run on a beautiful or interesting route at least once this week. Change to a different training route, run at a different time over different courses so you can enjoy your run more.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Write It Down

Some of my own training logs - if you can read them
Today's topic came about after a conversation with a fellow competitor and current national athlete whose identity shall remain anonymous. I was asked how I managed to consistently perform at races. My reply was simple, I wrote everything down. Yes, I'm talking about a training dairy. Mine goes as far back as 1985.

Even at that age, I'll write down what I did for training, how the races went, how I felt etc. I was able then to refer back to my training dairy whenever I needed to see how I trained for a particular event especially if it was the same event or race a year or two later. Of course it meant that each time I fell sick, I could check and see if I needed more off days, more rest or if I tried to do too much too soon.

I could also learn from my mistakes. After a disappointing race, I can analyze the training log book and see what I needed to do differently. By doing it this way, losing was not a failure, but postponed success, a critical part of winning next time.

Keeping a training log during key periods can help you identify training trends that work for you. It'll also identify trends that don't, such as not racing well 3-4 days after a hard training workout.

So what can you write down. You can record any variable that affects your running. Distances covered, time taken, how much you slept, hilly route (or flat), aches, pains (my favorite 'coz it means maybe you need to see a physio), no just kidding. When you have new running shoes, what you ate before training or racing etc. Also write down how you felt and what you thought of the workout. All this information can help you improve because if something goes wrong, your log book can help you find the cause and likewise if a training run or race went well.

Must you write it down? In this day and age, of course you can rely on some electronic gadget or online training journal to track everything. Me, I'm terrible with computers so I'll just write mine down.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Hey There Delilah

Bet you didn't know this. Time magazine named "Hey There Delilah" as one of the top ten songs of 2007. This song was also nominated for both Song of the Year and Best Pop Performance by Duo or Group with vocals at the 2008 Grammy Awards.

This song was inspired by a runner - Delilah DiCrescenzo (left). Not only is the song about a real girl, but it's about an Olympic hopeful. It is not often that runners inspire music. It's also one of my favorite tunes to run along with.

The song was written after Tom Higgenson, lead singer of the Plain White T's met Delilah, a nationally ranked American cross country and steeplechase runner. Despite the fact that she informed him that she already had a boyfriend, Higgenson felt strong enough to write a song about her.

What did I learn from this story?

That Plain White T's had such huge dreams before they actually put pen to paper and wrote the song. That it is okay to dream big and believe that anything is possible if you set your mind to it. It gives me hope.

Click here for the song.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Chocolate Milk, Gatorade or Endurox

I don't know about you but for me, I'll choose chocolate milk every single time. Plus you know what, my choice happens to be backed by scientific research.

Allow me tell you more. I've often been asked by friends, patients and even my competitors what I eat/ drink for my recovery after a hard training session or race. I'll tel them usually I'll eat/ drink whatever I fancy or whatever I find in the fridge at home. Most of the time it's an ice cold Coke and/or chocolates, chocolate milk, chips etc. I always get an incredulous look from my friends especially." Are you allowed to do that?" Well, the study below actually says I may be right. Well, ( I don't know about Coca Cola or chips), but with regards to chocolate milk anyway.

Published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, Karp et al, 2006 found that chocolate milk was an effective recovery aid, similar to Gatorade and superior to the more expensive Endurox. For athletes training twice per day, chocolate milk is an effective recovery aid. Plus they taste a lot better to me than Gatorade or Endurox anytime.


Karp JR, Johnston JD et al. (2006). Chocolate Milk As A Post-exercise Recovery Aid. Int J Sport Nutr Ex Metab. Feb; 16(1): 78-91.

We drink Oat milk now, not cow milk

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Workout- Blast From My Past

As the start of a brand new racing season beckons, I'll like to share one of my training workouts since I am now retired from racing. This particular session will simulate the increasing effort and fatigue of a race.

After a 2-3km warm up run, run at a hard pace that is 15-45 seconds slower than your goal race pace. (If your race pace for 10km is 3:45min per km, run 15-45 sec slower). Gradually speed up til you are running moderately hard at mid run followed by very hard -- goal pace at the end for the last 2km.

Try this, it'll help prepare you for your upcoming races this season.