I have always taken part in some form of sport from a very young age, and have always been encouraged to stretch before activity. Although I knew the importance of stretching, I had always found that I tended to perform a gesture of stretching, rather than fully appreciating its importance for overall health and fitness.
I was always taught to ‘warm up’ before playing team sports (football and rugby) which gave dedicated time before activity for this to take place. Normally led by a coach or team member, we would go through the motions which normally meant only hamstrings and thigh stretches. I know I am not alone in this gesture, with many amateur athletes not placing a lot of value on stretching. In some respects, it’s understandable because time is a precious commodity, and stretching is often the first thing to go. Stretching is often seen as a boring metronomic task that doesn’t fit in with the often macho image of training. You will hear people boast about their long rides or runs, but never will you hear someone say they completed a 30 min stretching workout
Whether you are in the pool, climbing a mountain on the bike or trail running, it always feels like you are achieving something that is benefiting your training. But stretching or attending a yoga class can feel like something that aids your training, rather than training itself.
Many people will argue that stretching before activity will not prevent injury, and admittedly there has been very little scientific research to support stretching for this purpose (or discredit it). However, stretching must be seen as more than a ‘warm up’. It should be seen as increasing your range of movement, which will aid your ability to perform more efficiently and effectively. Routinely lengthening a muscle can only be good for the prevention of injury. When training, your muscles contract repeatedly which results in the connective tissue shortening and tightening. These muscles lose elasticity through repetitive movement, which seldom go through a full range of motion because they stop short of full extension and complete flexion. Another potential benefit of stretching is increased muscle power. Power in your muscles comes from their contraction; since power is positively affected by the length of the muscle, increasing your muscle length increases the potential power produced by its contraction. In other words, longer muscles are more powerful.
Now in my 30s and concentrating on triathlon, I will admit that I had the mindset of stretching as ‘warm up’ until a couple of years ago, where l I had a light bulb moment after picking up consecutive injuries. I started to think of stretching as a preventative measure before, during and after activities, not just before. I wanted to ensure that I managed my body more efficiently so gave a greater emphasis to rest and stretching, and started to view them as training sessions in their own right.
I am still quite bad at stretching before exercise, but I do now take 10 to 20 mins each day to stretch key muscles as well as two dedicated stretch and core strength sessions. This has helped me manage niggles more efficiently, and the issues I used to have in my calves have more of less disappeared since I regularly stretch the backs of my legs and lower back.
My five top stretches (although consider a whole body routine) are :
- · Glute Stretch (Also known as a Pretzel Stretch)
- · Seated Hamstring Stretch
- · Twisting Buttock Stretch
- · Eccentric Calf Raises
- · Cobra Stretch
Below are links to resources I use for stretching. The videos are great because it ensures I hold the stretch and don’t cut the session short. I am pretty sure that most people can find at least 10 mins a day to do these stretches, even if it’s as you are watching TV.