Why Should I Bother Stretching?
It’s Spring, according to the calendar anyway, and at this time of year, my clinic starts to get busy with people who are training for events. Usually a running event, anything from 10k to a marathon, and also some long distance cycling such as 100 miles a day (sometimes repeating for several days). With all these folk, the issue of the benefits of stretching will come up, as well as the need for good self care as part of your training regime.
Professional athletes have a team of people supporting them – trainers, physios, massage therapists, psychologists. So, for the amateur, it is also worth seeking some support for yourself, even just for the period up to the event, especially if this is your first attempt at this type of event.
If you are a runner that has done some races before, you may get a shock when you start the training regime for a full marathon. It really does take over your life, and with that level of commitment, the last thing you want is for some minor injury or tight muscles to become so much of an issue that you can’t take part in the event, or end up with a longer term in injury.
How Should I Stretch?
When I see people in this training period, I always ask about stretching. These days most people will do some, but I still get the occasional person who sheepishly admits that they ‘know they should, but….’
Most who do stretch still seem a bit unsure as to why or what they are actually trying to achieve. Or they have been doing the same stretches forever but they have no idea what muscles they are targetting. Others say that they only stretch post run with the club, in the car park, quickly because they want to get home. They are basically going through the motions but might as well not bother because most of the time they are not stretching anything.
So, these are the folk that I need to get into a better regime, so we can improve their stretching and make sure they actually benefit from it. I mean why stand on one leg in a car park with a bunch of other people, if it's not actually helping your leg recovery! Click To Tweet
The top mistakes people make are –
1. Not taking the time required. There isn’t really a set time for a stretch, the idea is to do it until your muscles soften, and stretches. Yes, the goal of stretching is to stretch the muscle! People are sometimes surprised to hear that, they have become so used to doing it mindlessly. This is also why doing it in a group is not always best. Your quads might need 30-50 seconds to begin to ease, while the person next to you feels ‘done’ in 20 seconds.
2. Not listening to the body – relates to 1. How do you know when the muscle is stretching if you are not tuned into what is going on, and where you are feeling the stretch? I ask people to demonstrate their hamstring stretch and ask where they feel it. Most say ‘behind my knee’. That is not the hamstring muscles then, that is the tendons. Feel the stretch in the ‘meat’ of the muscle.
3. Doing the same stretches every time. Muscles need some variety, to catch different parts of the muscle, especially in the big groups such as the quads (front of thigh), but also to keep you interested, so you don’t just go through the motions.
4. Only doing a set few stretches. relates to 3, but this one is more about making sure you stretch different bits of the muscle and also different muscles. Runners will often only focus on thighs and a basic calf stretch. What about shins? What about hips? What about upper body? You use all of them in running. Cyclists often fall into the same trap.
How to Get More Benefit from Stretches
In order to get the best out of your stretches, you need to go slow, vary the stretching regime, and think about your body a whole. Develop a stretching routine that you can do most days, not just after training. Keeping muscles supple, stretched and cared for will help avoid injury. During the stretching, you are more likely to notice any little niggles, which might become bigger issues when you set off on the next training run or ride.
If you need guidance, seek advice from a physiotherapist or a sports massage therapist such as myself. I give people personalised stretching routines with PDFS and photos, and any decent therapist should be able to do similar.
To get you started, here are some books I recommend (these are affiliate links)-
The Stark Reality of Stretching – This is a great book, focuses on the lower body, debunks some of the myths and raises flags around some of the ‘no-no’ stretches. Emphasis on benefits and methods of stretching.
The Complete Guide to Stretching – A great book for both keen sports people and the rest of us who just need to do more stretching in general. It is part of a series of books that I like, with ones on TRX training, core stability etc. All worth checking out.
Another series of books that I like are the ‘Anatomy of’ Series – Anatomy of Cycling and Anatomy of Running. They have others in the series, on specific activities, and for women. These books have stretching routines as well as basic strength training for these sports.
As well as stretching consider what else you could do to help your body’s wellbeing, such as yoga or Pilates classes. What cross training are you doing? Swimming? Gym sessions? Can you include more stretching during these sessions? And of course, make sure you look after your body with nutrition, hydration, and regular massage treatments. Act like a pro! They do all of this remember! Don’t forget , if you are having a massage that timing of treatments around training and the actual race is very important Click To Tweet so make sure you see someone who takes that into account.
After the race, get a massage in the first week or so, to help the recovery (and as a reward!). If you’re in Edinburgh or Fife and want some sports massage to fit in with your training then get in touch here to book a session, or how about a special offer package to cover your training period and beyond. Get in touch for more information.