I generally love everything about training for endurance sports. I actually enjoy my early morning workouts in all three sports, I like seeing gains, I like researching ways to become faster and stronger…what I don’t like is stretching. Despite everything that I know about it’s benefits, I just never have made stretching a consistent part of my training over the last three years.
Just to be clear, I’m not talking about stretching before runs or rides. I do dynamic stretching before every run and most rides to get my muscles loose. The stretching I’m referring to is that static stretching that you are supposed to do after the workouts, when your muscles are good an warm. I’ve never been flexible. In fact, I’m probably considered very inflexible. My hamstrings, quads, shoulders and back always seem to be tight.
Think about what happens when you stretch. Your muscle fibers are forced to lengthen when you stretch. As you increase the angle of your stretch, those fibers will eventually (very quickly for me) reach a point of maximum elasticity. While these fibers are being stretched, something called your muscle spindle is also being stretched. The spindle records the change in length of the muscle fibers and how fast that change occurs and sends signals to your spine and brain and triggers a stretch reflex. This reflex keeps the fibers from stretching too far and tearing.
Along with stretching, using a foam roller or massage therapy to work the fascia that surrounds the muscle fibers is important. If the fascia (connective tissue) is in bad shape, it will keep your muscles from stretching, no matter how flexible the fibers are. Since having (painful) deep tissue massages after my last two races, I know that my fascia is all jacked up in my legs and shoulders. I’ve made and effort to spend some time on my foam roller for 15-20 minutes a few times a week in the evenings.
So why is all this important? Having more elastic muscles protects them from injury. Tight muscles pull and tear…pulling and tearing are bad.
So what are some good stretches for triathletes and runners? I turn to none other than “The Man”, six-time Ironman World Champion Dave Scott to get the answer. I’ve seen ton’s of video and picutres from Dave’s epic races in the 80’s. Here’s what he looked like then, rockin’ the mustache and the short shorts:
Here he is in present-day, showing six great stretches. He’s the dude standing in the back of some of these screen shots:
#1 – Lying Leg Crossover (targets hips, glutes and lower back)
(Little TMI there dude, get some longer shorts!!)
#2 – Hip Flexor Stretch
#3 – Periformis, hip, glute stretch
#4 – Hamstring stretch (use a towel or elastic band if you don’t have a partner)
#5 – Quad Stretch
#6 – Shoulder, back, lat, pec stretch (so pretty much the whole upper body)
Seeing pictures of these stretches doesn’t give the full explanation of how to do them properly. Check out the video here for all the important details.
I did a few of these stretches this morning after my workout and I can tell you that I have very little range of motion on most of these. I’ll make an attempt to do these several times a week, you should too!