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Stretching - What a waste of time
by Denis Oakley in ,

I have stretched lots over my life time but I have never found it to be much use. Apart from various injuries caused by badly fitting running shoes to correct pronation caused by running shoes I've been pretty much injury free. When I have stretched it really doesn't seem to have made much difference one way or another. So now I don't bother.

I'll admit that I don't have much flexibility - touching my toes is beyond me and has been for years (but I can balance upside down on my forearms). My calves are pretty tight and going for a sports massage is usually a studied exercise in agony. As a triathlete that is quite relaxing :)

About the only stretches that seem to be worth doing are calf stretches as I get cramp in my arches when swimming sometimes. Even that though seems to be getting better - mostly due I believe to doing my running barefoot.

There is however a huge difference between stretching and core exercises. Core exercises and building core strength are hugely important. It definitely seems that the stronger ones core is the easier a lot of exercises are. For example getting the right position in the water and the bike  both seem to rely on good abs. In the water they allow your head to go down and your legs up. On the bike they protect you from back pain.


Simon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Simon said...

I am the least flexible person on the planet. Hate and I mean HATE stretching and never did any EVER until just before Ironman last year. The only stretching I do is a little after spin classes (not much to mention) but then I stretch my hamstrings rigourously at least 5 days a week. The difference means I can run an Ironman marathon relatively easily without stopping whereas in the past that was never possible.

I accept that I've trained more and smarter and that stretching isn't the only thing that has helped. BUT, it IS one of the thangs that I add to the smarter list.

I couldn't touch my toes either and amazingly I couldn't even touch my ankles a couple of years ago - now I can touch the floor with relative ease.

Trust me, IT DOES MAKE A DIFFERENCE - it's one of the many many building blocks and training techniques to a faster du, tri and run.

(reposted with the spelling fixed)

Denis Oakley said...

Thanks Simon for your comment.

When I started running cross country when I was at school we were taught to do about 5-10 minutes of stretching pre and post exercise to warm up muscles.

Again when I was a member of the BRAT triathlon club in Birmingham the encouragement was to do lots of stretching prior to runs.

There seem to be two trains of thought here. Firstly stretching and secondly warming up muscles. I certainly take 300-400m to warm up my arms when swimming and usually it takes a kilometre on the run before all systems are go.

Warming up muscles to allow for good performance can easily be done by doing gentle exercise of the form that you are warming up for. Swimming Cycling and Running. And this is what every authority I've read on triathlons suggest before a race - Friel, Bryn, Fitzgerald etc. The length of the warmup is inversely proportional to the race length/speed.
Specifically stretching isolated muscle groups seems to have minimal benefit here and carry some risk of injury - especially if one does not it right. There is also a lack of scientific evidence to suggest that stretching is good for you. Noakes says a good deal about this. What evidence there is seems to be inconclusive.

However as you point out there is a lot of benefit in focusing on particular muscles where they are a limiter on performance. Your hamstrings - my calves. Here I think performance can be improved but the degree of enhancement is very difficult to isolate.
Then there is a question as to whether a good sports massage of the effected muscle - albeit usually with controlled stretching of it - is better than a simple stretching routine.
Finally - I'm dubious about stretching as I am reasonably convinced by the evolutionary running argument (this is obviously weaker when it comes to swimming and running). Humans have evolved to be naturally good long distance runners. If this is the case then one would expect that the body in running manages the majority of its systems maintenance (that is supposedly improved by stretching) itself. Stone age man did not have a stretching routine - but he regularly ran down deer etc for food with no weapons.

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