How to Stretch
There are two kinds of stretches: static and dynamic. In a static stretch, you reach a position and hold it, usually for twenty to thirty seconds. Release and wait a few seconds, then repeat the stretch.
When you are doing a dynamic stretch, you are going through a range of motion. For example, standing and twisting is a way of stretching the obliques, the muscles around the spine and the core muscle group.
A lunge — stepping forward in an exaggerated motion, low to the ground — is another type of dynamic stretch for the hip flexors, quadriceps, and glutes. Different varieties of static stretches will take up most of your stretching time, especially after your workouts. Dynamic stretches are most effective in preparation for a workout or a race.
When you are working on a static stretch, the muscle you are stretching should feel some tension, but the stretch should not be painful. If a muscle hurts when you start your stretch, stop. Work on another area, assuming it is pain free, then return to the stretch that hurt. If it still hurts, give up for the day. This is a warning sign that something may be going on in that part of your body that needs rest or extra attention.
Once you have achieved some tension on the muscle you are stretching, hold it gently for twenty to thirty seconds. You could hold the stretch longer, but it's not necessary. You actually get more benefit from two or three thirty-second stretches with small breaks in between than you would with one long stretch for the same amount of time.
Do It Right
You can do more harm than good if you do your stretching the wrong way, but it's best to start with a list of recommended activities. Here are stretch principles that will be of benefit to you.
Warm up before stretching. This cannot be overemphasized.
Hold most stretches for at least twenty seconds.
Stretch daily. If necessary, take ten minutes off one of your workouts to make time for stretching. It's that important.
Be careful about stretching outside in very cold weather. For example, when there's snow on the ground, take extra time to warm up before you try to stretch.
Take a deep breath before you begin the stretch.
Exhale as you stretch the muscle. This practice allows the spine to increase flexion, which enhances the effectiveness of the stretch.
Focus on problem areas and stretch the tighter side more if there is an imbalance.
Done properly and regularly, stretching is very beneficial for an athlete. Poor technique can do a lot of harm. Here are some stretching practices to avoid.
Bounce when stretching. You should maintain a constant tension on the muscle. Bouncing can cause injury.
Push to keep stretching when it hurts to do so. At most, the tension in the muscle should be mild discomfort. It should never hurt.
Stretch injured muscles.
Stretch cold muscles. Always warm up before stretching. This can be done with as little as a ten-minute walk or five-minute jog. You risk injury when you try to stretch cold muscles.
Forget to stretch opposing muscle groups. Stretching one side but not the other can lead to imbalances that cause injuries.
Forget to stretch the upper body as well as the legs.
Act Your Age
Taking the time to stretch may try your patience, but if you are an aspiring triathlete who is over age forty, it's even more important for you. As you age, you lose range of motion, and your muscles lose flexibility. Failing to stretch is inviting disaster. Your triathlon career will end prematurely if you can't get to the starting line because of injury.