How important is stretching to increase speed on the track?

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The biggest advantage stretching provides a sprinter is the ability to recover from high level practices and performances. Stretching, especially after practice, allows the body's muscles to recover in a more efficient manner for the next practice or next competition.

If a sprinter ignores stretching, or skips flexibility sessions, then the athlete will see a varying degree of pain, soreness and possibly injury. Lack of flexibility will affect one's ability to recover from injury, thus making it harder to manage a training cycle from day to day, because the body is not properly prepared. If deterioration of the body occurs due to improper mobility, it's impossible to put the body through high loads and high stress levels required to improve speed.

While performing stretches before, during, and after workouts, avoid overstretching and understretching. Overstretching is pulling or pushing a muscle or joint to or past the point of pain, which can lead to injury. Understretching is basically not performing a full movement, or performing a "half-stretch."

Before practice or an event, use static stretches, dynamic warm-ups, or partner stretches to get the muscles warm. I advocate a little bit of each, but sometimes it's kind of on a "to each his own" basis. Whatever style of stretching a sprinter chooses to perform, strive to accomplish functional leg movement. Perform basic functions of sprinting—knee lifts, frequency of turnover and sprint frequency—to loosen muscles for greater speed gains. Also, incorporate the upper body in the stretching routine, because arm movements control the tempo and cadence of lower body movements. A tight upper body will lead to a tight lower body and will ultimately hinder stride frequency and speed.

During practice, continue to stretch after each sprint. The last thing I want my athletes to do is just sit down during practice. Continuing to move will break up the lactic acid in the muscles and help a sprinter perform at high levels.

After practice, an event or a workout session in the weight room, always stretch so the body can continue to break up lactic acid and prepare for another rigorous workout the following day. Post-workout stretches can be more static in nature.

LaMonte Vaughn is the former University of Washington sprints coach. 

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