Last week Lorenzo Possanzini interviewed me for Agoradio in Italy on preparing an athlete for Venicemarathon. He asked me a curious question about the practice of stretching. Here’s the question:
Stretching is a nightmare for a lot fo runners but at the same time essential for preventing injuries. How should it be done and when?
The first thing I noticed was the word "nightmare". Stretching after a workout is actually thought to be a relaxing moment by many athletes after miles of hard running. My intuition told me that Lorenzo was probably referring to himself , and I was right. My first response was to say that if it really felt like a nightmare he probably shouldn’t be doing it at all. Any done in a haphazard way with no real conviction is surely going to be done incorrectly and cause more damage than good. But then our reporter went on to mention that he was stretching for long before a workout and again after. That’s when I thought maybe I needed to clarify some points on stretching for Lorenzo.
The aim of stretching for an athlete is not to be able to do the splits like a ballerina but instead to maintain an optimum range of movement in order to keep your running action fluid. The three points to focus on are your calves, quadriceps and back because they all play an important role running. When after miles of workouts you’re slightly contracted, muscle elasticity diminishes and a risk of injury increases. As in all most everything it’s just a question of balance and following guidelines.
- Stretching should be done after your warm up or at the end of the workout when muscles are warmed up and pliable. Never, ever before!
- Each stretching exercise needs to be done on the right and left side of your body.
- Stretching is a gentle exercise so there is no force. Put in just a small amount of tension but without ever feeling pain.
- The positions should be held for a few seconds without bouncing up and down or back and forth.
- Breathing exercises are an integral part of stretching. Be careful not to hold your breath!
If you want an easy solution, sign up for a yoga or pilates course. You’ll get a lot of benefits on just an hour of lessons per week. Namasté!