Basic Stretching - In Practice

author : Ron
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The following is some examples of stretches that may help you.  I am by no means an expert.  There are many, many other good stretches that you may want to include in your daily regimen specific to you - these are the ones that keep me injury free while fitting into my busy schedule.  Look at the four books I mention a little later for more details and more examples of different stretches.

I have spent years honing down the elusive 'perfect' stretching routine for my personal physiology and training.  It's a fine line my friends but I think I have it.  A little history first.   Many years ago, I'm sure many of you subscribed to the 'stretch-to-your-limits' philosophy.  If it didn't hurt then your not stretching correctly.  That was me too.  I would barely do a warm-up then go into a tendon and muscle ripping routine before my workout.  I wondered why I always pulled muscles or got mild tendonitis?

No more though.  That thinking is for the birds.  Moderation is the key to stretching (and most things in life).  I was doing that 'old school' way up until Christmas of 2003.  When I was running several days while on vacation, my hamstrings just kept feeling worse as the mileage conservatively built - especially where they attach at the knee.  Before running or biking, I had a routine where I would hold a series of four stretches (hamstrings, calves, back, quadriceps) for about 45 seconds - repeat 3 times.  I would hold these stretches at my flexibility limits - near pain.  Of course I did a warm-up, albeit only a few minutes.  But they only got worse.  I checked out some literature, especially Galloway's Book On Running, Triathletes Training Bible and the Stretching in Appendix II from Triathloning for Ordinary Mortals - reprinted from Bob Andersons Stretching, from these I discovered several flaws to my routine.

THE STRETCH REFLEX

You see, there is a reason for your muscle to hurt at the extremes of a stretch - it's a protective mechanism for your muscles and keeps them from being injured.  When pain happens, your muscles are sending a nerve signal to the brain to involuntary contract the muscles to prevent tearing.  By holding a stretch where it hurts, you are over-ruling that signal, compromising that safety mechanism of your muscles.  You start causing real damage to your muscles by invoking small tearing in the fibers leading to scar tissue and a loss of elasticity - so you are actually losing the ability of getting more flexible by stretching this way!

Learn from my mistakes and see if any elements of the following routine that I adopted for myself can help you.  Note that after taking a more 'moderate' stance and using some philosophy from the aforementioned books, I have not had a problems since.  This is about a year later.  But every once in awhile, when I get 'in a hurry' to get a run or bike done I will skip my stretch routine.  Excuses like "that thunderstorm will get me if I waste any time to stretch" or "I have things to do, I'm a busy guy - I can't be bothered with this silliness today."  Well people, when I skip the stretches for a week, I start feeling it - the tightness, then the achy-ness.  Upon resuming my routine, I'm all better.

Some of you may not feel the need to stretch before you routine, that's fine.  It's not for all of us.  Some of you may like to do a post workout stretch at least 30 minutes after your training (never stretch within 30 minutes immediately after your training, can lead to a greater risk of injury).  This stretching can be more intensive and is supposedly safer and more productive than stretching before your training.  Being me,  I would never get around to doing that - hence this short pre-workout routine that gets me by.  Read the literature though and find what's best for you.  I'm sure your going to have to experiment.

OTHER STRETCHING METHODS

The following stretches I will demonstrate can be defined as an adoption of the 'static stretching' techniques from Bob Andersons methodology.  There are others that seem interesting such as 'PNF' where you go through a series of static stretches and alternating with contractions in 8 second intervals - repeat four times.  'Active isolated' involves stretching the muscle for two seconds then relaxing it for another two seconds, repeat 12 times per muscle.  Again on all of these, only go until mild tension develops - no pain.  Of course, the method of 'ballistic stretching' is what many of us may have previously subscribed to - the bounce, the stretching till it hurts.  BAD!  BAD!  STRETCH!


WARM-UP

Before ANY exercise, warm-up first.  Usually a very light jog for 5 minutes will get the juices flowing into your muscles.  Do the shuffle run if you have to - KEEP IT SLOW!  You never want to stretch a cold muscle.

STRETCHING BEFORE THE RUN AND BIKE - THE EASY STRETCH

  • These stretches are the 'static stretching' method I described earlier.
  • Do these stretches one right after another.  Hold them for 20 seconds maximum then move on to the next stretch.  When done, repeat the series of four, two more times.
  • When holding these stretches, if the tension doesn't subside, ease up and don't try so hard.

 

 
  • A good stretch for the back and hamstrings.
  • Don't stretch too far down, only till it starts to get tense and never further.
  • Don't bounce.
  • Hold for 20 seconds.

 

  
 
  • This stretch is good for the quads, I seem to feel it more nearest the knee.
  • You will feel this stretch best the more upright your body is.
  • Pull your foot towards your buttocks, keeping your torso straight and in line with your upper leg.
  • Hold for 20 seconds.

 

  
 
  • For your calves and Achilles.
  • The farther down your body goes, the more stretch you get.
  • Start with your knee straight - this will give you more of a calf stretch.
  • Bend your knee slightly in - this will stretch the Achilles more.
  • (You are stretching the 'right' calf according to the picture)
  • Hold for 20 seconds.

 

  
  • A good hamstring stretch.
  • DO NOT try to get your leg parallel to the ground - This will be too much (unless your a yogi or gymnast
  • A truck bumper or the top of your tires is a good height for this.
  • Only get your leg up far enough so you just start begin to experience a tightness - no more.
  • DON'T TRY TO TOUCH YOUR TOES!!!  It's ok if you can't  Just go till a mild tension develops.
  • You can 'lean in' more with your torso to get more of a stretch instead of trying to swing your leg up onto a higher object.
  • Hold for 20 seconds.

 

  • Repeat the above four stretches two more times without any breaks in between.  Ten minutes tops for the whole thing.  You can fit that into your busy lives right people?

STARTING YOUR RUN OR BIKE

Start up slow.  For the run, gradually increase your speed of a slow jog over at least five minutes till your at your normal cadence.  Never do any speed-work until well into your run and all systems are a go.  For the bike, gear it so that you are easily spinning at 90-100rpm's - like there is no resistance at all.  Do this for about five to ten minutes, then work back to your normal gearing.

 

POST WORKOUT - THE DEVELOPMENTAL STRETCH

  • Do this part even if you skip the pre-workout stretch.
  • You should repeat the 'easy stretches' discussed earlier 30 minutes after your run or bike when your heart rate has returned to normal.
  • Transition into the 'Developmental Stretch' by stretching a little further then before and hold for up to 30 seconds. 
  • Don't bounce.
  • The tension in these stretches should diminish upon holding them.
  • Again, don't go till it hurts.  Discard that old 'no pain, no gain' mentality.

WHAT ABOUT SWIMMING?

Your shoulder is the area where all the rotation takes place and serves to lift your arm from your hip over your head to re-enter the water in front of you.  Your back serves to pull your arms through the water from entry to exit.  Your shoulder muscle is composed of three main lobes of muscles: the front, middle and rear deltoids.  If you hold your arm out directly in front of you, at neck height, one can feel the front head of the muscle contracting.  Moving your arm to the side, you will be able to feel the middle lobe.  Likewise, moving your arm behind you, one can feel the rear head contracting.  It's very important to keep your shoulders healthy as this is a common area of injury from overuse or abuse.

To stretch the back and shoulders, you have a few choices:

  1. Do a light run 5-10 minutes followed by these stretches.  Upon hitting the pool, you would do several warm-up lengths before getting into the bulk of your routine.
  2. If your not concerned about losing your lane, start in the pool with a 5-10minute warm-up swim with nice and easy strokes.  Exit the pool and perform the following routine before re-entering and beginning your swim routine.
  • Do the following stretches like before, keep them gentle - only stretch until a mild tension develops.
  • Hold each for about 20 seconds.
  • Proceed on to the next stretch.
  • Repeat the whole series two more times.

 

 
  • Excellent 'lateral' stretch - a back muscle.
  • Start in the center position, hold 20 seconds.
  • Proceed to each side holding for 20 seconds.
  • You will really feel the muscle the further you stretch to the side.

 

  
  • Another stretch for the 'lateral' muscles.
  • Face a wall, reach up with your hand.
  • Lean into the wall.
  • Hold for 20 seconds.

 

  
  • A great stretch for the chest muscle.
  • Have your torso perpendicular to the wall.
  • Your feet should run parallel to the wall.
  • Careful!  One can easily overstretch on this - only a mild tension should be felt.
  • If you can't get your torso perpendicular to the wall, that's ok.
  • Hold for 20 seconds.

 

  
  • A good shoulder stretch targeting the front and middle heads.  You will notice that it's the rear head contracting.
  • Hold your hands behind your back interlocking your fingers.
  • Try to raise your arms behind you.
  • Hold for 20 seconds.

 

  
  • Another shoulder muscle stretch targeting the rear head.
  • This is opposite of the chest stretch.
  • Face the wall.
  • Try to get your torso parallel to the wall, but it's ok if you can't and probably won't.
  • Hold 20 seconds.

 

 

WORKING OUT IN THE MORNING?

If so, then a good, proper warm-up and stretching routine is even more important in my opinion.  Little do your muscles know what punishment you have in store for them.  Poor muscles.  Treat them properly in the morning and take your time during your warm-up.  Perhaps walk for 10-20 minutes before your warm-up jog.  I find that upon immediately getting up and running, I take much longer to get into a good pace and I usually never feel good afterwards - but that's just me, not a morning person at all.

I hope this information gives you at least a good starting point.

Good luck.

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date: September 26, 2004

Author


Ron

I started this site 10 years ago after doing my first triathlon in 2001. My goal for this site is to get people healthy and happy. I firmly believe that triathlon is the best 'sport' for your body as it has less impact then the more popular single sport(running) while incorporating your upper body from swimming allows for a balanced-body approach to fitness.

Author

avatarRon

I started this site 10 years ago after doing my first triathlon in 2001. My goal for this site is to get people healthy and happy. I firmly believe that triathlon is the best 'sport' for your body as it has less impact then the more popular single sport(running) while incorporating your upper body from swimming allows for a balanced-body approach to fitness.

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