I’ll preface this with a small note: this is the first in a series of posts. I’ll post some tips which can be helpful, why they might apply to you, and what my experiences have been. Happy reading!
We’ve all heard it before – “Do your stretches, it’ll help you!”.
Your Mom/Dad/coach/training partner/SO command you to do this like it’s from the bible. They keep on telling you until you finally succumb
and do a few stretches half-heartedly in front of them to appease them, or keep them quiet. I’m ashamed to admit, it’s definitely something I’ve done before!
Being a younger athlete, and having a relatively flexible base to start from, I thought myself immune to the effects that training has on your muscles and body in general!. Rather luckily, I learned the easy way that the “I’m cool because I don’t need to stretch” mentality can send me hurtling towards an injury that would have been easy to prevent.
I have to admit, this wasn’t because I started to enjoy stretching, nor was I inspired to do it out of some freakish performance a professional athlete did and they accredited stretching as they key to said performance; rather, I was stood over and made to do it over and over until I got the message that unless I did my stretching, prehab, rehab, and general maintenance, I wasn’t going to be allowed to train
and also, I got injured and finally got the message.
Firstly, I’ve got to give credit to my parents for this. When I started to get-semi serious about swimming, Mom had two rules – I couldn’t get up early & drive to training if I didn’t get enough sleep (or at least she didn’t think I got enough ha-ha-ha…) & I had to do my stretching to maintain my body. Whilst I freely admit that uni work/ part time work/ athlete life still leaves me struggling to manage my sleep properly (something I intend on rectifying soon with a cool new tip – stay tuned) my stretching routine, I feel, is somewhat precisely tuned. I had a set of stretches from my gym coach/physio that I had to do in order to keep my body in tip-top shape, and I did them religiously when I was younger.
But as all things do, this changed. Due to changes in coaching/group structures/lack of motivation/every other excuse under the sun, I stopped doing all the general maintenance I needed to in order to keep going in an optimum way. It started off slow, with my rationale being “It’ll be okay if I miss them just this once” or “I’m young I don’t need to do them” – both of which, frankly, were just excuses I used to pacify the little voice in my head harping on about doing the stretching I was supposed to be doing
Luckily, I was pulled out of this particular hole. With my last swim coach, Paul Dowey (by far the best swim coach I’ve had the pleasure of being trained by – have a look at his resume and you’ll see why!), the importance of keeping my body in good shape flexibility-wise was once again thrust upon me. There were a few reasons for this:
- If you want to keep loading up your muscles when you train, you’ve got to find a way of unloading them later!
- Stretching helps with injury prevention. In turn, this will help with saving on physio trips!
- Even a small amount of stretching can provide high returns come race day!
- Stretching is very easy to fit into a day. For example, if you did 5 minutes a day, every day, for a year, you would end up with just under 31 hours worth of stretching total – that’s more than most athletes do for two whole weeks of ‘real’ training! Anyone can do anything for 5 minutes, even stretch!
As I moved into triathlon, I realised what a blessing Paul had given me. He explained to me that stretching didn’t need to be hard work to fit in, provided great gains for little effort, and was
super-critical probably important to do to prevent injury. It was easy to see that I could get a huge performance benefit with little extra effort needed on my part (at least, not compared to my normal training routine of however many hours I can fit in per week). Coming from a non-weight bearing sport like swimming, my lower leg muscles and joints hadn’t had the hardening up required to continually train the optimal pace or distance that I needed in order to actually run.
Stretching, and rolling out, my calves, glutes, hamstrings and quads definitely helped my transition into running be as injury-free as possible, and helped to dissipate the fatigue that I felt particularly keenly in my calves and achilles. Ensuring that my soft tissue wasn’t holding onto too much fatigue certainly allowed me to perform better and more consistently without getting little niggles that stop me training for small amounts of time. Please note, those little pockets of time you can’t train properly add up to more than you would imagine! From this experience, I make sure that stretching is a staple of any week of training that I undertake, and I encourage everyone to do the same
apart from my competitors.
The link below is the general stretching guide that I use, and is probably more comprehensive than most out there. It does delve into some of the scientific reasoning behind why you should stretch, but after that it’ll also tell you some of the key stretches that are important to do!
Now for the real kicker. Sleep. We all know we should get more, but we rarely schedule ‘extra sleep time’ into our daily lives. Whether it be through a power nap during the day, or getting to bed slightly earlier at night, or being more organised the day before so we can sleep in another 15 minutes before that annoying alarm goes off, sleep is a common thing that everyone puts in the ‘too hard’ basket. Unfortunately, we’re all busy people, sometimes that busy-ness creeps into night-time to the detriment of the sleep that we vitally need. Family life, working late and training early/late are all common things I’ve heard prevent people from getting the recommended 7-8 hours a night. However, all the extra stretching in the world, whilst I’m sure impresses your Yogi, won’t overcome a lack of sleep. Sleep is the ultimate way to recover. During sleep, your brain can relax from being on the go all day, and we all know just how refreshing a good nap or sleep can be mentally. However, there is a genuinely similar effect for your body in terms of recovery. Sleep doesn’t only allow for better brain function and recovery, it also allows for better muscle repair and function when you wake up and get ready to move again!
I’ll write a more scientifically-based post about sleep later, but for now I’ll leave it at this:
While I’m well aware this was really just a shameless self rationale for my own stretching and sleeping really are vitally important to improve your recovery!