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
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
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
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!