Many of us are continually amazed at the frequency with which professional baseball players suffer season-threatening muscular injuries. There they are, running hard down the first base line trying to beat the throw from the shortstop or third baseman when suddenly, they pull up lame and must hobble to reach base safely despite their sudden injury. In other scenarios, the batter or runner is not even running full-out, but rather moving at moderate speed, and still they suddenly bend over, grabbing their hamstring or calf muscle.
What's going on with these world-class athletes? Aren't they in great shape and supremely conditioned? Why do so many players get hurt and have to spend significant time on the disabled list? The answer frequently lies in a failure of sufficient preparation, that is, a failure to adhere to a consistent, long-term program of stretching.
This analysis also applies to us non-professional athletes. We want to make sure our exercise efforts are time well spent, and all of us want to avoid exercise-related injuries that slow us down. Despite the best preparations, still injuries can happen, but there are steps one can take to minimize the likelihood of sustaining an injury, regardless of severity. A regular, consistent stretching program will go far toward protecting us from muscle strains that interfere with our activities. The key is to incorporate stretching in your overall exercise program and make sure to devote sufficient time to this important preparatory activity.
The large muscle groups of your legs, your quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves, provide for locomotion and support all activities that are done while standing and even some that are done in a sitting position. The four quadriceps muscles act to extend the knee,1 the three hamstring muscles act to flex the knee,2 and the two primary calf muscles enable you to rise up on your ankle and foot and take a step. If any of these large muscles are not ready to work, injury may result. Stretching prepares your thigh and leg muscles for physical work. Stretching carefully, with intention, will help you succeed in your exercise activities and maximize the health benefits.3
- Pourahmadi MR, et al: Effects of static stretching of knee musculature on patellar alignment and knee functional disability in male patients diagnosed with knee extension syndrome: A single-group, pretest-posttest trial. Man Ther 22:179-189, 2016
- Ichihashi N, et al: The effects of a 4-week static stretching programme on the individual muscles comprising the hamstrings. J Sports Sci. 2016 Apr 26:1-5. [Epub ahead of print]
- Konrad A, et al: Effects of acute static, ballistic, and PNF stretching exercise on the muscle and tendon tissue properties. Scand J Med Sci Sports 2016 Jul 1. doi: 10.1111/sms.12725. [Epub ahead of print]