PURE PERFORMANCE | BODY THE FACTS ABOUT FOR SPORTS PERFORMANCE BY BRITT CALING T he importance of a regular stretch program in maintaining a wellbalanced, flexible body is well recognised by health professionals and exercise scientists worldwide, however, not every athlete needs to stretch every muscle or even every day. So, how do you know if you need to stretch to improve your sports performance? The concept of “Stiffies” versus “Floppies” This concept was developed in 1995 by physiotherapist Anna-Louise Bouvier based on each individual’ s inherent level of flexibility, stability and strength (for more information, search Google for “Physiocise”). The essence of this concept is that flexibility varies between individuals and even between different joints in the same person. Factors such as age, weight, lifestyle, abnormal biomechanics (how our joints and muscles work) and prior injuries can all play a role in these differences. Another big factor determining flexibility is genetics. To outline the concept, “stiffies” are people who are made-up of genetically stiffer tissues (their tissues likely have more collagen content). They have stiff joints and muscle tissue and have generally poorer flexibility. These “stiffies” athletes have to work harder at maintaining flexibility and soft, healthy muscle tone. “Floppies” are people that genetically have been given loose, flexible tissues (they likely have a higher content of elastin in their tissues). “Floppies”don’ t have to stretch much (if at all) to maintain really good flexibility and have amazing joint flexibility (you know those ‘ double-jointed’ people doing the party tricks like putting their feet behind their head). Floppies usually have soft, supple muscle tone. And then there are “flippies”- these people are usually floppies but with stiff areas or joints that may come and go. Put simply, Stiffies nearly need to stretch regularly, while Floppies may not need to stretch at all, and Flippies should stretch only their specifically stiff body regions. Physios now recognise this individualised need for stretching and any stretch program should be tailored to your needs based on you, the biomechanical demands of your sport, your level of participation and previous injury history. 44 | MULTISPORT MAGAZINE The performance benefits of stretching Stretching is a combination of techniques used to relax and lengthen muscles in order to increase flexibility. A stretch program that has been designed to suit your individual body and needs may have a number of benefits: - Most sports require a certain amount of flexibility and joint range of motion in specific body regions to allow you to achieve ideal technique. Better technique equates to better performance and reduced risk of injury. It is important that you or your Sports Physio understand the flexibility requirements of your sport and then try to address any deficits in flexibility you may have. - Improved flexibility in the right areas also results in better posture and reduced pain from poor posture - Many of our body’ s tissues naturally get stiffer as we age, so regular stretching will help reduce some of the age-related tissue symptoms - Stretching may help to reduce delayed onset of muscle soreness that results from unaccustomed activity (although research suggests that a thorough active cool-down is best to minimise this) - Stretching for recovery can be a relaxing experience and can help in mental recovery from sports and activity. Should I stretch in my warm-up? A stretch program is not the same as a warm-up. A warm-up is a combination of sports specific exercises of increasing intensity aiming to raise the temperature of muscles and tissues thereby increasing the tissue’ s ability to withstand the stress and strain of activity. A warm-up also aims to improve coordination and concentration, as well as prepare the heart and lungs for the demands of the activity. Static (stationary or held) stretching may be one component used early in a warm-up, while dynamic (movement through range) stretches should be used throughout your warm-up to prepare the tissues for the flexibility requirements of activity. There is no evidence to support the theory that static stretching immediately before exercise prevents injury. A good warm-up, appropriately designed training programs, and correct technique is far more important in preventing injury & improving performance. "A STRETCH PROGRAM IS NOT THE SAME AS A WARM UP."