Thursday, December 27, 2012
Stretching the Inflexible
“Too many people confine their exercise to jumping to conclusions, running up bills, stretching the truth, bending over backward, lying down on the job, sidestepping responsibility and pushing their luck.”
About a year ago, I began to experiment with doing a weekly yoga class in an effort to improve my flexibility, for nothing else than to improve my running. Now, you have to understand that my GOAL was to become as flexible as a stick of bamboo, rather than the telephone pole that I am. Even though I run fairly regularly, that's great for the running muscle's strength, but those same running muscles (and ligaments and tendons and fascia and all kinds of soft tissue) become MORE tight and begin to set like glue. The yoga class made me realize being tight as a bloated tick is probably not a good thing, so I planned to continue it and hoped it would help me to float and glide during my running. Unfortunately, my ankles were so bloody MORE inflexible than the rest of my non-Gumby body, I just too often was unable "assume the position", so had to give it up.
So, I am thrust back into my previous, and much too inconsistent, self flexibility routine. The most obvious method reflects the question I get asked frequently in the Parking Lot before our weekly training run...what about stretching? This is something most runners just
despise don't enjoy doing. It really is so controversial as to whether it prevents injuries or not, but I'm a Physical Therapist, and it just makes sense to me that if you make the tissues more flexible, that they'll be less prone to injuries. With that being said, I also have to add that there have been no good studies that prove that stretching at all prevents injuries - it's just too doggone hard to prove! Of course, in the PT clinic where I work, I'm gung-ho teaching post-surgical joint patients to stretch so their joints don't "freeze". However, for us healthy guys, every month there's a new article in Runner's World about whether to stretch or not, or how you should go about it..."Stretch Like a Kenyan"...Stretch like an Olympian"..."Don't Ever Stretch"..."Stretch Five Times a Day", but never "Stretch Like Al". So, for runners, if you do stretch, and seeing that I'm your coach, I suggest you do, here's how I suggest you get it done (definitely as a "do-as-I-say, not as-I-do" scenario.
First, I need you to enter into the incredibly exciting world of exercise physiology (Man, I love it!). Muscles and tendons have a complicated mechanism to prevent them from overstretching and becoming injured. If you stretch a muscle too quickly or too hard, a message is sent to the spinal cord that says "Hey, you're going to tear me", so it contracts stronger to protect itself. This is why you should never bounce during stretching (like they taught me in High School to do, which explains a lot about why my muscles are now as pliable as cement). A proper stretch should be applied gradually and held ONLY AT THE POINT OF RESISTANCE, not the point of pain! Most studies show that a stretch of less than 10 seconds will probably not do a whole lot of good, and over 30 seconds is probably redundant, so keep it 10-30 seconds each and do 3-5 repetitions. Speaking of studies, there also are no studies that really show when the best time to stretch is - being you hate to do it anyway, my suggestion is stretch when you can - morning, evening, before the run, after the run - it doesn't matter. You should warm up before you run (walk 3-5 minutes, or run VERY slowly for the first few minutes) but you don't HAVE to stretch then. Find stretches you like and feel to you are worthwhile. Stretching is so personal, some love it, some hate it, some need it a lot, some need it almost none. Minimally, you should stretch your hamstrings, groin, calves, hip flexors, and back. There are a lot of good sites on the web about stretching - Runner's World has several good articles here. Happy Hamstrings!
Had a pretty good showing for our 17 miler last Sunday. Be careful with feeling good and wanting to do more than the schedule calls for. One of our new guys decided "Hey, 17 is so close to 20, I think I'll go on". I asked him why and he just said "because I feel good". So, I guess the point is to run until you don't feel good! Ok, he's a big boy, but just remember, during marathon training, you are ALWAYS at the tipping point of an injury. It takes longer to get over an injury than it does for it to all of a sudden show up. Remember to leave a comment on this page or email me if you have any questions about the schedule or any training questions at all. Have a great week. I will be out of town visiting family in Boston this Sunday, so you are in the capable hands of Ken. And remember, we will be running on the Mercedes Marathon course on Jan 13th and Feb 3rd. More details to follow.
I'll see you on the roads - AL
"One child lost is too many...one child saved can change the world"