All you need to know about stretching
Longer duration stretches have more prolonged effects. (Credits: Pixabay)
Coaches always tell skaters to stretch, but what does science say about the role of stretching in improving the performance and preventing injuries? Martina Ricci, doctor, synchro skater for 18 years, and editor for Jura Synchro reviewed the scientific literature.
Figure skating requires both strength, flexibility and movement precision. For this reason, the purpose of stretching is to ensure the skater achieves a sufficient range of motion in his or her joints to perform the athletic activity optimally, also allowing a freer movement pattern and  to increase muscle compliance reducing stiffness thereby theoretically decreasing injury risk.
More recently, researchers and sports medicine practitioners have underlined the importance of a more complex and complete Neuromuscular Training that could reduce lower limb, acute knee and ankle injuries.
However, the practicality of these findings for many individuals, teams and clubs may be limited due to the need for some particular equipment (for example, balance boards) and the requirement of additional training sessions to normal practice and competition. In these cases, a more practical solution could be to incorporate neuromuscular training programs which do not require additional equipment into current warm-up routines. 
Some researchers  showed that a SS of short duration (30 seconds) increased flexibility and did not have a negative effect on the muscle force. On the contrary, gymnasts (athletes evaluated in the study) who performed SS more than 15 minutes had worse jumping performances, so a longer duration could be detrimental.
Anyway, it is well known that after 5-6 minutes of interval between stretching and the beginning of the performance, the impairment due to SS goes away: so by the time we wear our skates the “bad” side of stretching has already disappeared .
The effects of a 4 min stretching of a muscle is still apparent after 10 min (Ryan et al., 2008) and this may be the minimal static stretch duration required to provide a prolonged effect in that single muscle passive resistance. That means it would take about 20 min to effectively stretch both the agonist and antagonist muscle groups bilaterally.
Stretching protocols that include exercises involving more than one muscle group can reduce the total time for an effective warm-up. For example, performing a straight leg raise hamstring stretch (for example a 135° spiral position) with the non stretched leg held in neutral hip flexion (that means “while standing up”) means that the hip flexors of the non stretched leg are being stretched at the same time as the contralateral hamstrings.
From the existing literature, the following stretching recommendations for injury prevention seem reasonable:
- Target stretching to muscle groups known to be at risk for a particular sport, e.g., hip flexor and extensor in figure skating
- Apply at least four to five 60 sec stretches to pain tolerance to the target muscle groups and perform bilaterally in order to be confident of decreasing passive resistance to stretch
- Include neuromuscular training in your practice .
- Don’t also forget to stretch after practice to relax the tired muscles.
Hopefully, future experimental and epidemiological studies will provide more substantial data to guide such recommendations.
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 K. Herman, C. Barton, P. Malliaras, and D. Morrissey, “The effectiveness of neuromuscular warm-up strategies, that require no additional equipment, for preventing lower limb injuries during sports participation: a systematic review,” BMC Med., vol. 10, p. 75, Jul. 2012.
 Y. Ogura, Y. Miyahara, H. Naito, S. Katamoto, and J. Aoki, “Duration of static stretching influences muscle force production in hamstring muscles,” J. Strength Cond. Res., vol. 21, no. 3, pp. 788–792, Aug. 2007.
 O. Donti, K. Papia, A. Toubekis, A. Donti, W. A. Sands, and G. C. Bogdanis, “Flexibility training in preadolescent female athletes: Acute and long-term effects of intermittent and continuous static stretching,” J. Sports Sci., vol. 36, no. 13, pp. 1453–1460, Jul. 2018
 M. P. McHugh and C. H. Cosgrave, “To stretch or not to stretch: the role of stretching in injury prevention and performance,” Scand. J. Med. Sci. Sports, vol. 20, no. 2, pp. 169–181, Dec. 2009.