General Discussion Triathlon Talk » Stretching/Flexibility Rss Feed  
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2013-11-05 6:05 PM

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Subject: Stretching/Flexibility
I wanted to get some thoughts regarding stretching and good flexibility as it pertains to run speed.
I've never considered myself very flexible but of course I've never put a real effort into improving it either. So my question is do you feel improved flexibility can/should lead to better run speed? Is it worth focusing on? I always do the obligatory 5 minutes of stretching before a run or workout, but that is it. Is it worth the time to really focus on a daily stretching program? For the record I am 42 and consider myself an average runner at best with a current 5k time around 21min and 10k around 45. I don't run anything longer than about 7 miles. I averaged about 60 miles per month this year, so yes I plan to increase volume for 2014 but am looking for other ways to maximize gains. Thanks!


2013-11-05 6:15 PM
in reply to: Dominion

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Subject: RE: Stretching/Flexibility

Originally posted by Dominion I wanted to get some thoughts regarding stretching and good flexibility as it pertains to run speed. I've never considered myself very flexible but of course I've never put a real effort into improving it either. So my question is do you feel improved flexibility can/should lead to better run speed? Is it worth focusing on? I always do the obligatory 5 minutes of stretching before a run or workout, but that is it. Is it worth the time to really focus on a daily stretching program? For the record I am 42 and consider myself an average runner at best with a current 5k time around 21min and 10k around 45. I don't run anything longer than about 7 miles. I averaged about 60 miles per month this year, so yes I plan to increase volume for 2014 but am looking for other ways to maximize gains. Thanks!

Try some easy yoga 15-20 minutes post run and if you have time 10-15 minutes pre run too.  I did it last year for my half mary plan and it helped.  Wish I had done more of it this year with the mary plan

2013-11-05 6:18 PM
in reply to: Dominion


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Subject: RE: Stretching/Flexibility
I stretch after my runs, not before - but heck, you are a lot faster than me, so I am not going to suggest you change anything! For me, the stretching of shoulders and arms, too, is pretty important for flexibility and comfort on the bike and in the pool (I stretch before every swim). But I am 56, and doctor said that flexibility after 50 requires regular stretching. Sounds like you have a decent program going - 8 years ahead of schedule!
2013-11-05 7:52 PM
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Subject: RE: Stretching/Flexibility
The answer may not be what you think it is.

I think it is fairly well accepted that static stretching prior to activity has a negative impact on performance.
And also that increased flexibility and running speed are inversely related.
I have terrible flexibility. I used to do token stretches before exercising but now I'm glad to be able to point to research that says I shouldn't bother.

http://sweatscience.com/stretching-is-bad-for-power-and-endurance-r...

Don

Edited by donw 2013-11-05 7:54 PM
2013-11-05 8:17 PM
in reply to: donw

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Subject: RE: Stretching/Flexibility
Don is correct, except it's not 'fairly well accepted', it's fairly well researched and been shown that static stretching does not help and can be harmful. The same with the inverse relationship to flexibility and running speed.

So stretch if you want to (I think it feels good, but it's not part of my routine) but don't do it to try to make yourself faster.
2013-11-05 10:50 PM
in reply to: MonkeyClaw

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Subject: RE: Stretching/Flexibility
Originally posted by MonkeyClaw

Don is correct, except it's not 'fairly well accepted', it's fairly well researched and been shown that static stretching does not help and can be harmful. The same with the inverse relationship to flexibility and running speed.

So stretch if you want to (I think it feels good, but it's not part of my routine) but don't do it to try to make yourself faster.

Yes, "fairly well researched" is a better way to say it.


2013-11-05 11:36 PM
in reply to: Dominion

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Subject: RE: Stretching/Flexibility
Stretching is probably one of the most mis-understood concepts in the world of fitness and most have no idea what they are doing. Most are doing what they were taught many years ago in gym class. Currently today static stretching is considered "old-hat" and not used or promoted as much anymore. The new craze is dynamic stretching. Does that means static stretching isn't applicable anymore? No, but it has its time and place.

For triathletes and runners specifically dynamic stretching is the best choice.

Dynamic stretching is a functionally based type of stretching technique. What dynamic stretching does is emphasizes movements that are specific to the activity, instead of focusing on specific muscles (static). What I am personally a big fan of is that dynamic stretching can use more then one joint in stretching, and you can use dynamic stretching in your pre-run drill sequences as well...double whammy!. Dynamic stretching will also stimulate the neural components in your body, which is key for your harder more intense sessions too. Also when you are stretching dynamically, it is key to SLOWLY move into the movement and ROM. For example if you are doing leg swings, increase the length of your legs swing each time, don't just swing as hard as you can to get full ROM. Static stretching can be beneficial post-exercise too, especially to increase ROM in resistance exercise. Most athletes do not realize to gain benefits from static stretching you need to ease into the stretch and hold for 30-35 seconds. I usually see people reach as far as they go and hold for 5-10 seconds....DOESNT WORK.

However, I do think static stretching has its place in the world of endurance athletes. Here are a couple examples of when I think static stretching is good.

Right before bed: Static stretching helps relax the nervous system, so getting in 5 minutes of 2-3 stretches can help if you are one that struggles with sleep.
Foam Rolling: In conjunction with foam rolling static stretching can be beneficial, but this is more on the recovery.

Static, ballistic, and dynamic stretching all have their places.
2013-11-06 6:35 AM
in reply to: bcagle25

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Subject: RE: Stretching/Flexibility
Thanks everyone for the feedback. So what I am getting is that static stretching right before running is not going to make you faster on THAT run. I get that. The bigger question is will being a more flexible athlete allow me to run with more efficiency and with better ROM thus improving overall ability. A good way to put it is 2 athletes all else being equal, will the more flexible athlete be able to run faster/or with less effort than the less flexible? My suspicion is that it must help to some degree.
2013-11-06 7:02 AM
in reply to: Dominion

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Subject: RE: Stretching/Flexibility
I think the consensus is pretty much that static stretching before exercise is not a good idea. It can decrease performance, stretching muscles that aren't warmed up yet can make you more vulnerable to injury, and I've found that many athletes do the stretches incorrectly, anyway, making them at best ineffective and at worse harmful. I have found doing a few dynamic (moving) stretches before a run, ride or swim to activate the major muscle groups involved can be useful, if nothing else to get the blood moving before hitting the road at 5:XX or the pool after a long day of work.

I do some static stretching, but it is immediately AFTER I finish a run or ride. They are just a few exercises, mainly hamstring, piriformis, and hip stretches that were recommended by a PT I consulted about chronic low-grade issues due to a series of traumatic injuries in the past. I have been doing them daily for about six months and the discomfort and tightness that plagued me for over a decade is almost non-existent at present. So I definitely wouldn't discount them. As for effect on speed, I'm not sure as I don't race often. I do know that my stride is definitely more natural/efficient and it feels much smoother to run fast. (Before, I could run slow with little discomfort, but any level of speedwork was literally a pain in the butt.) So I'm guessing that if I have a better range of motion, I'm getting faster, either directly through better efficiency, or indirectly because I can handle a higher training load.

I guess how beneficial stretching is depends on the athlete and whether or not inflexibility is a limiter in their ability to train hard and run efficiently. In my case, it was, so I stick to my stretches.
2013-11-06 7:46 AM
in reply to: Dominion

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Subject: RE: Stretching/Flexibility
Originally posted by Dominion

Thanks everyone for the feedback. So what I am getting is that static stretching right before running is not going to make you faster on THAT run. I get that. The bigger question is will being a more flexible athlete allow me to run with more efficiency and with better ROM thus improving overall ability. A good way to put it is 2 athletes all else being equal, will the more flexible athlete be able to run faster/or with less effort than the less flexible? My suspicion is that it must help to some degree.


It is possible that being more flexible may allow you to run faster and it is also possible that you may run slower. Running is interesting in that while a certain amount of flexibility is beneficial, it is possible to be too flexible and this can lead to reduced economy because of reduced stiffness.

Worth reading:

http://www.researchgate.net/publication/38094018_Effects_of_static_...

Shane
2013-11-06 8:24 AM
in reply to: donw

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DC
Subject: RE: Stretching/Flexibility
Originally posted by donw

The answer may not be what you think it is.

I think it is fairly well accepted that static stretching prior to activity has a negative impact on performance.
And also that increased flexibility and running speed are inversely related.
I have terrible flexibility. I used to do token stretches before exercising but now I'm glad to be able to point to research that says I shouldn't bother.

http://sweatscience.com/stretching-is-bad-for-power-and-endurance-r...

Don


Wondering... how much of this research applies to cross/strength training. I get that the body should be a "stiff" for running economy purposes, so if you weight train, should one also avoid stretching there so as to avoid a carry-over effect? I never stretch before a run but it seems strange to not stretch before a weight training session.


2013-11-06 9:23 AM
in reply to: Porfirio

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Subject: RE: Stretching/Flexibility

I'm going to be another advocate for yoga.

I do 15-30 minutes after a long run and take a full hour class once or twice a week. Not only does it help with flexibility, but it also helps strengthen your core, improves your posture, and enhances your focus.

A long range of movement greatly helps to keep your muscles from tightening on a long run. Especially when you're pushing yourself harder than your regular training runs. That is often the case when racing.

2013-11-06 10:31 AM
in reply to: vertseven

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Subject: RE: Stretching/Flexibility
Stretching can be very important! I used to never stretch, however I now stretch a lot since 2009.

Agreed that stretching before you run is not helping you, stretching after is important.

The problem I had with not stretching is that all muscles/ ligaments are connected in some way. I have fairly strong legs( leg press 700lbs plus; hold 23-24mph in 70.3's on the bike) so with out stretching my quads and hamstrings they continued to get tighter pulling on my hip flexors which in turn pulls through the back. Another common problem with us triathletes is we tend to ignore specific core training. Putting this together for me crushed the discs in my lower back, partially herniated one and compressed 2 more. This was explained to me by Dr's and physical therapist's once I could no longer walk. I then spent 4 months in PT(because I did not want to get discs fuse in surgery) learning how to strengthen my core and stretch properly to control the situation. Now when I get lazy about stretching or core work my back lets me know.

So I would advise everyone to learn how to stretch and do core work, because you fast when you can use your legs.
2013-11-06 10:45 AM
in reply to: Dominion

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Subject: RE: Stretching/Flexibility

I stretch after rides and runs because when I don't, I am very stiff the next few days.  And when I'm stiff, my performance suffers.  But the bigger picture is that when I'm stiff I suffer more injuries.  And injuries both minor and major will definitely affect your speed.  They may even keep you out of it completely.  I cannot imagine workouts without stretches afterward.  The rare occasions I skip the stretching, I pay for the next few days.  I feel like a tin man in need of oil.

To combat my chronic stiffness issues, I started foam rolling before runs.  I called it tenderizing the meat before I cook it   It has helped me tremendously.  Instead of feeling stiff for the first 15 minutes and then easing into my goal pace, I can jump right into my goal pace from the first step and my overall pace is faster with the same amount of effort.

So for me, stretching and foam rolling has help me improve my general run pace.

2013-11-06 10:48 AM
in reply to: Dominion

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Subject: RE: Stretching/Flexibility
Tricky subject for triathletes.
Take the ankle as an example.
Ankle flexibility is very useful for an effective kick while swimming. Good ankle flexibility reduces drag.
But...ankle stability helps running form and power esp. on extended downhill’s.
But..ankle flexibility helps when faced with poor running surfaces.
Stability and flexibility are not mutually exclusive. The aim is for your joints to be strong through a wide range of movement. Stretching helps with the range of movement but does not cultivate strength throughout it.
Your running times are very nice. Sub 45 for 10k and sub 20 for 5km are my medium term goals. I don’t do any static stretching pre run and little post run. But I do do weekly yoga which deals a lot with balance and stability and strength. And a lot of trail running which cultivates the ability to apply running power on imperfect surfaces.
Works for me. But then I am slow!
2013-11-06 10:50 AM
in reply to: Dominion

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Subject: RE: Stretching/Flexibility
Originally posted by Dominion

Thanks everyone for the feedback. So what I am getting is that static stretching right before running is not going to make you faster on THAT run. I get that. The bigger question is will being a more flexible athlete allow me to run with more efficiency and with better ROM thus improving overall ability. A good way to put it is 2 athletes all else being equal, will the more flexible athlete be able to run faster/or with less effort than the less flexible? My suspicion is that it must help to some degree.


I can't quote you any science/facts/studies, but I would agree with your assumption. Based on my experience, if I stretch in the morning (which is a combination of some static and dynamic stretches), my whole body feels better and my s/b/r sessions are better. There are too many variables to state that stretching alone makes me faster, but without stretching my body feels all tight and my s/b/r sessions aren't as good (and generally slower as a result). And I also find that stretching before also helps me post exercise. So, long story short, I don't think there's any downside to stretching and in fact, I think there are definite benefits.



2013-11-06 12:06 PM
in reply to: gsmacleod

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Subject: RE: Stretching/Flexibility
Originally posted by gsmacleod

Originally posted by Dominion

Thanks everyone for the feedback. So what I am getting is that static stretching right before running is not going to make you faster on THAT run. I get that. The bigger question is will being a more flexible athlete allow me to run with more efficiency and with better ROM thus improving overall ability. A good way to put it is 2 athletes all else being equal, will the more flexible athlete be able to run faster/or with less effort than the less flexible? My suspicion is that it must help to some degree.


It is possible that being more flexible may allow you to run faster and it is also possible that you may run slower. Running is interesting in that while a certain amount of flexibility is beneficial, it is possible to be too flexible and this can lead to reduced economy because of reduced stiffness.

Worth reading:

http://www.researchgate.net/publication/38094018_Effects_of_static_...

Shane


Thanks for the link, Shane. One thing I am not worried about is being too flexible LOL
2013-11-06 1:58 PM
in reply to: Dominion

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Subject: RE: Stretching/Flexibility
I see there are several advocates for yoga and stretching. I'm am an advocate for not bothering to do any stretching. I think that 10 years ago this statement would have been viewed as bordering on reckless. However, I feel great and I don't think that any studies are demonstrating a solid link between stretching and injury prevention.

In terms of running performance the evidences seems to favour being inflexible. See below - I've quoted the conclusions as stated in the abstracts of a couple of studies. Obligatory disclaimer - Not saying that everyone should do what I do, but I'm not aware of any evidence that suggests I should change.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19050648?itool=EntrezSystem2.PEn...
"The significant relationship demonstrates that the less flexible distance runners tended to be more economical, possibly as a result of the energy-efficient function of the elastic components in the muscles and tendons during the stretch-shortening cycle."

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21266930
"CONCLUSIONS:
These data support the premise that longer lower limb tendons (especially Achilles tendon) and less flexible lower limb joints are associated with improved running economy."

There's even a gene that is associated with both faster running and with poorer flexibility.
http://sweatscience.com/2011/07

Don
2013-11-06 3:35 PM
in reply to: donw

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Subject: RE: Stretching/Flexibility

I do some static stretching to deal with some chronic back problems unrelated to triathlon training.

Otherwise I do very little stretching.  I walk for about 1/4 mile before my runs and for 1/2 mile afterwards, and I do some easy spinning for a mile or so to start and finish my bike rides.  That's about it.

As discussed in some other threads recently, I've found over the past couple of years that I've had fewer overuse injuries as I've increased my total training volume and frequency through better consistency.

Mark

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