Pre-exercise, I’ve found the best place to start isn’t with stretching, it’s with flexibility exercises such as yoga movements and some of the stretches that can be performed more dynamically – i.e. with movement.
These accomplish two things:
1) You can get some blood flowing into a muscle that hasn’t warmed up.
2) You reduce the risk of injuring a muscle by trying to stretch it before it is ‘warm’.
As a martial arts instructor I find flexibility warm ups absolutely critical – even more so if you’re training in a cold environment.
There are half a dozen flexibility yoga exercises that I include before martial arts training and four specific exercises I like to use before running.
Performing these exercises prior to training reduces the risk of injury and performing them after training assists recovery and strength development.
It’s this last point that is worth examining – the stretching motion will push all the waste out of your muscle after its development so that you can stimulate improvement in the recovery time.
One of the reasons a muscle can cramp is when it literally grows too big for the muscle fascia and no longer moves freely ie it sticks to the fascia. This is called Compartment Syndrome and it’s another reason why sportspeople of all levels should add a flexibility program to their training routine.
Stretching and flexibility exercises will help to lengthen the muscle fibres.
A stretching and flexibility program will also help sufferers of night cramps and people who aren’t athletes and are prone to cramping.
If you suffer frequent cramps in your calves and you sit for long periods of time during the day, try resting your feet on a block (or a couple of phone directories) and perform calf lowering and raising exercises repeatedly throughout the day placing special emphasis on the downward stretch. This will help develop strength and flexibility in the calves.
I’m sure there’s also a lot of athletes out there who stretch faithfully before and after they train or race and yet still suffer from cramps.
Well, the good news is that you can probably rule out flexibility as a cause of cramping. There’s other factors involved here – especially nutrition and that would be my recommended starting point; especially if you get them when you’re well hydrated and not too fatigued.