By Coach Steve

I never begin a swim, bike, or run workout without stretching first (OK, the second discipline of a brick workout is the one exception). For me, stretching is part of the warm-up process. Taking the time to stretch also forces me to relax before I begin, helping reduce injury potential.

There's quite a disparity of advice about stretching. One well-known coach recommends never to stretch, others consider it a separate 'workout' that should be planned every day. My views about stretching fall somewhere between those extremes.

I consider flexibility a measure of your physiological age. We can't stop chronological aging; we do have some influence over the physiological process. All of us naturally lose flexibility as we age, but diligence with stretching can slow down—or even stop—the process. Why do we care if we lose a little flexibility? Consider what happens when opposing muscles restrict movement.

Range of motion (flexibility) has much to do with our speed potential in each discipline. Imagine lat muscles so tight that you can't get full extension at the beginning of your swim stroke, or a lower back so tight that you can't get an aerodynamic flat back position on the bike. Worst of all, consider the effect of hamstrings so tight that you can't swing your leg forward without resistance to begin your stride properly. Lack of flexibility limits range of movement, giving athletes choppy form, covering less distance with each stroke or stride.

Be careful with your stretching though; more is not always better. I've overdone it several times, causing micro-tears in my hamstrings and Achilles tendon that meant multiple days off to heal. Stretching too hard at inappropriate times can create problems rather than relieve them.

Think of what happens when you stretch a rubber band (analogous to a muscle or tendon) that has a tiny cut (micro-tear) in it....Where will it break? This is the unfortunate scenario that occurs if you stretch too hard after a really taxing workout, or when you feel a strain coming on. I only stretch with full effort when I have no strains or other injuries that I'm nursing. For this reason I favor stretching diligently before workouts, but not necessarily after. It's true you won't be able to stretch as far with cold muscles before a workout, but it's the continuity and effort that counts. Contrary to some PTs and coaches, I believe pre-workout stretching is most important. I also recommend taking some time to stretch on weight training and core workout days.

When you do the following stretches, hold the position for a several seconds and don't bounce!

For pre-swim stretching: With hands locked together behind your back, lift them as high as you can. Then bend forward at the waist as if you're reaching to your toes but with hands still together behind your back and let gravity pull them toward the ground. You can also do this stretch by locking your hands over an immoveable object behind you. If you have a buddy, get your buddy to lift your arms while they're behind you. If you have a place to do it: Simply hang from a bar for 15 to 20 seconds. Reach your arms over your head and pull your shoulders to your ears with hands together. Take one arm at a time and try to put them behind your head. Finally, make a windmill motion with your arms with big circles to loosen-up your shoulder joints.

For pre-cycle stretching: Sitting on the ground with legs out in front of you, knees locked, reach out to toes with legs both together and apart. With legs apart, reach to one leg at a time, then with both together reaching as far as you can. Stretch your calves in the usual way with knees locked, and knees bent. Remember "Twister?" To stretch your lower back and glutes...While still sitting, put one leg straight out with knee locked, bend the other to 90 degrees and place your foot OVER to the outside of the straight leg, placing it on the ground beside the straight leg's knee. Rotate your torso so the opposite shoulder moves toward the knee bent at 90 degrees. Try to place that knee in the armpit; hold the position!

For pre-run stretching: Do the same hamstring/lower back stretch listed first under 'pre-cycle.' Everyone knows the calf stretch where it looks like you're trying your push your car, a tree, or whatever! And, everyone knows the stretch where you reach to your toes. Try it with legs crossed to stretch your IT band. Also for hips/IT band, lean against something solid with your right or left side facing it and push your hips toward that object. Do a modified lunge, where you lower your body on a bent knee forward, the other leg extended behind you. Feel the stretch across your hip flexor; push yourself back up with the FRONT leg!

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