Sunday, November 14, 2010

Reach for the Sky (This is not a Holdup)

I stretched a lot when I first started running five and a half years ago. Whether that stretching did or did not contribute to various aches, pains, and injuries is something I'll never know. But at one point, out of desperation, I simply quit stretching altogether. That worked for a while, and then I started getting injuries that were clearly a result of muscle tightness.

The information I gleaned from research was contradictory at times. However, I can summarize what I did wrong and what I'm now doing right. Stretching is a good and necessary part of a runner's regimen. It also has to be done carefully and it has to work for you personally. There is no cookie cutter solution to the issue of stretching, because everyone is different.

Don't forget, none of us is a 100% runner. All of us have physical routines that involve other things. For example, I sit all day at a desk, getting up and walking around occasionally. I also sit in a car for between 2.5 and 4 hours a day on average. So my muscles have a tendency to tighten up. Some people do a lot of standing, walking, bending, etc. during the course of their work day. Swimmers, cyclists, rock climbers, all of these people have significantly different physical fitness requirements than I do to excel at their various activities.

So stretching is part trial-and-error and part research. Most importantly, apart from what your body tells you, is the opinion of trainers or coaches who you work with and who really and truly know what you personally should and should not do. Trial and error without experienced input is quite likely to lead to setbacks.

I stretch when my muscles feel tight. I also stretch as part of my gym workout twice a week. If I stretch before I run, it's very conservative, just enough to loosen the tightness since I almost always run immediately upon waking up at 4 am. As I get older I find my muscles getting tighter as well. But I seem to have found that sweet spot where I'm doing the right amount of stretching to fit the speed and distance that I run, so it's just a matter of tweaking it these days.

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