Category Archives: stretching tips

Case for stretching before running

Given these frigid temps, it’s important to consider when to warm up and stretch. Here’s a good article on why you need to stretch from Running Well, printed with permission of Human Kenetics.

“Despite conflicting evidence on it’s benefits, we think neglecting to stretch is a bad idea! The trouble is, because many of us dislike it, we don’t spend enough time or effort on stretching and then it doesn’t work – reinforcing our belief that it’s a waste of time. However, doing it properly may result in a very different experience. To understand why, you need to know a little about what stretching does. what happens when you stretch? When you first take, say, your calf muscle, into a stretch, muscle “spindles” located among the muscle fibers detect a change in the muscle’s length and report back to the spinal cord. The nervous system sends a message to the nerves governing these fibers to tell the muscle to contract, in order to take it out of the stretched position. This is known as the “stretch reflex.” However, if the stretch is maintained for more than a few seconds (which, in many a runner’s case, it is not!), another, more sophisticated receptor, located where the muscle attaches to the tendon and called a Golgi tendon organ, comes into play. This receptor can detect not only changes in the length of the muscle but also in the amount of tension it holds. So, hold that stretch and the Golgi tendon organ, noting that the muscle fibers are contracting and lengthening, triggers a reflex relaxation of the muscle (via a process called autogenic inhibition) to protect the muscle from damage. This is why easing into a stretch slowly and then holding it allows the muscle to relax and lengthen. Over time, stretching can increase the length of the muscle, or at least maintain it at – or restore it to – its optimal functioning length. But why does this matter? Well, running, as you probably realize, involves repeated contractions of specific muscles over a long period of time. This can leave the muscle fibers shorter in length than normal, and misaligned (like hair that needs combing). Stretching is the process we use to restore muscles to their resting length and realign these fibers. Without it, we risk them shortening permanently (by a process called adaptive shortening) and, in doing so, altering the function of the joints they are connected to. For example, if the hip flexors (which work very hard in running) tighten and shorten, they pull the front of the pelvis down and throw the lower back out of alignment, which can have all sorts of knock-on effects.

What’s more, flexibility naturally declines as we age if we don’t maintain it – and changes take place in muscle fibers and connective tissue. Collagen fibers within the connective tissue thicken and, without regular stretching, get stiffer. Soft tissue becomes more dehydrated, decreasing joint lubrication and causing creakiness. One study concluded that stiffness and lack of flexibility were more a result of lack of use than of age per se, while another – on ageing runners – found that stride length declined primarily as a result of decreased range of motion at the hips and knees. Range of motion at the knees during running decreased by 33 percent and at the hips by 38 percent between the ages of 35 and 90. So, while we can’t categorically say that stretching will reduce injury risk or improve performance, it will help to restore muscles to their resting length after the continual contraction involved in running, help to maintain range of motion in the joints and prevent tightness and imbalances between muscle groups.

Six more reasons to stretch
* A flexible joint uses less energy to work through its full range of motion, so good flexibility will enable you to run more efficiently.
* Increased supply of blood and nutrients to joint structures helps keep them healthy and mobile.
* Stretching improves neuromuscular coordination (the nerve impulses that travel from the body to the brain and back).
* Muscular balance, body awareness and posture are enhanced.
* Stretching helps to flush out metabolic waste products post-run.
* It gives you time out to relax and reflect on your session.

When to do it
When – and how often – should you stretch? Ideally every day, suggests research in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, which found increases in both muscle force and power in subjects who stretched daily for several weeks. The benefits ranged from 2 to 5 percent improvement, which, they estimated, could make the difference to an elite athlete betweenwinning a gold and not making the podium at all –small, but worthwhile, gains. Another study showed that running speed improved as a result of regular stretching when it was not performed immediately prior to exercise, but this was in sprinters, so may not be so relevant to distance runners. Even more important than the possibility of shaving a few seconds off your time is the possible reduction in injury risk. While it is now widely believed that there is no evidence that stretching reduces injury risk, this refers to stretching pre-workout, as part of a warm-up, not as a separate regular practice. Three studies have found a significant decrease in injury risk as a result of regular stretching – or, to put it more accurately, as a result of good flexibility.”

Dave Scott stretching video

Dave Scott, who is a six time IronMan World Champion, and show some of his favorite stretches in this video. They include stretches for your glutes, hip flexor, piriformis, hamstring, quad and shoulder girdle.

Enjoy and remember to check out the resources page with other great videos. Our online store offer terrific videos as well.

Stretching for triathlon

As any athlete knows, stretching is a very important component of a training regimen. There are a few well-regarded thoughts on stretching.

First – always warm up before stretching. My PT gave this example – imagine putting a rubber band in the freezer for a while and another one under warm running water. Which do you think will stretch more and stretch easier without breaking? The one that has been in warm water, of course. You do not have to run several miles to warm up enough to stretch but even walking a little bit until you feel your body more active. Your body will thank you with fewer injuries. Stretching cold is putting more stress on muscles that are not ready for it and are likely to create a circumstance where injury can occur.

Second – Understand that a long lean muscle that has been trained and stretched through its range of motion and can used through its range of motion is more useful and efficient than a shortened tight one.

Third – have a stretch routine. In triathlon, you use many parts of your entire body – core, shoulders, arms, hips, neck, legs, and feet – so have a routine that stretches them. Remember, you can use compound stretching which are movements that stretch more than one muscle at the same time, thus saving you time.

Fourth – My physical therapist tells me I should hold a stretch for 30 seconds or longer for it to have lasting benefit.

Stretching has been a huge part of my rehab from injuries. My PT tells me I have very tight hips. I try to work on that consistently. It amazes me that muscles “over here” can play a significant role with injuries or tightness “over there.” Learning the intricacies of of how muscles work together has been a fascinating study for me. If I were younger, I would probably go to graduate school for further study.

Toward that end, I have tried to find books that help me with stretching. A lot of people recommend Bob Anderson’s stretching book and I found it useful. However, I have just found, “Stretching Anatomy” by Human Kinetics, who pride themselves on having high quality, well-researched and reviewed, scientifically sound books.

What I found particularly useful was:

  • Several pages per section of the body and how the muscles relate and move
  • Numerous high-quality illustrated pages of stretching movements with detailed
    instructions, which muscles are stretched more and some less, and variations as you progress
  • A recommended stretching program from beginners to advanced

Here’s a sample image:
Sample Page

Here’s a link to a few sample pages:

No one likes down-time due to injury, being away from their sport. So, enjoy stretching and reduce the likelihood of injury.