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Basic Stretching

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This weeks article:


Basic stretching

Learn how to properly apply stretching to your triathlon training

by Ron

Does the following describe you?  Right before working out, you start stretching before doing any kind of warm-up activity - basically stretching 'cold'.  When stretching, you will go to the limits of your flexibility, whether it is discomforting or not.  You may also use 'bouncing' as a way to reach your flexibility limits. 

If that description in any way characterizes you, you could be dramatically increasing your susceptibility to injury.  I used to stretch that way too and upon reflection, that is one of the reasons why I injured myself so frequently - from tendinitis to shoulder pulls. 

Studies have shown that most of your injuries will stem from pre-workout stretching and just a post workout stretch will be your most important injury deterrent as opposed to no stretching at all.  Sounds counter-intuitive doesn't it?  Many people do absolutely fine on no stretching at all.  It is certainly better than doing a bad pre-workout stretch routine.  Studies also seem indicate that the more flexible you are, there is a significant decrease in the frequency of injuries.

If done properly and with care, what benefits are to be had in stretching?  Well first, lets analyze where flexibility comes into play in triathlons.  Of the three sports, the swim and bike muscles will need extra attention.  For the swim, the powerful shoulder muscles (deltoids) need to go through a wide range of motion while delivering a significant amount of force to propel oneself forward. It is important to keep the shoulders in the best condition.  Although not immediately coming to mind, your ankles need flexibility too during the swim.  To reduce your drag, your ankles need to stay flat as possible.  During the bike, repeated contraction of your hamstrings will, over time, limit the flexibility of them causing one to lose performance from increasingly rigid hamstrings.  This also manifests itself in a tight lower back.  One needs flexible quadriceps and hip flexors to aid the range of motion during running so one does not get that 'tight, no range of motion' look which is bad running mechanics manifesting itself in poor efficiency.

So what approach should we take to developing a proper stretching routine?  Some considerations will be to adopt an individualistic approach.  It needs to work for you.  This IS NOT a one program fits all type of thing.  For people with prior injuries such as iliotibial band injury, stretching will play an important role in healing and recovery.  What we need to do is develop an effective way of retaining flexibility while allowing this stretching regimen to be important in preventing future injuries instead of being a cause of them...a fine line we must walk indeed.

Like all things in life, moderation will be the key.  We will work from the premise that a light, pre-workout stretching routine once properly warmed up will reduce workout cramping and will establish and retain a good range of motion for your activities.  A more intensive post-workout stretch session at least 30min after your workout (once your muscles are relaxed, still warm and you have a normal heart rate) will allow you to maintain your flexibility and maybe even make some small gains over a long period of time.  You may even find that you don't even need a pre-workout stretch before certain training, or maybe, depending on your personal physiology it may be causing injuries.  That will be up to you to determine if that's best for you.  Just make sure if your not doing a pre-workout stretch to slowly warm-up with a slow pace to your regular pace during training.  I would, at the minimum, do a post-workout stretch once you have cooled down - that is what the literature seems to indicate as the best for you.

Next Time - Pictures/Video of stretching you can effectively use for your training.


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