Don’t Miss Stretching as an Endurance Athlete
Believe it or not, this can be a bit of a hot topic in endurance athletics. There are opinions on both sides of the debate, and I want to throw my hat in the ring today. If you’re an endurance athlete, you absolutely should be stretching as a part of your workouts and racing.
I’m going to address this from two angles: One, should we be doing this, and two, what types of stretches should we be doing- how do we actually do it? If you’re a stretching skeptic, I hope to convince you otherwise! If you’re already on board with stretching, I hope you find this article informative and maybe learn a few new benefits.
Should I stretch?
The main reason that endurance athletes should stretch before and after activity is to reduce the risk of injury during physical activity. Long term, our performance as athletes relies primarily on our ability to remain injury free for the longest period possible.
Bottom line is, if you want to avoid injuries, consider adding a stretching routine to your workouts.
If you’re considering whether or not the benefits are worth the little time it takes before and after workouts, stop considering. It’s absolutely worth it! The answer is yes, you absolutely should. However, it’s important to consider the quality and type.
Okay, so how does this work?
Let’s look at two the two broad types: dynamic stretching and static stretching.
Dynamic stretching is essentially warming up the muscles through movement. These movements move you through the full range of motion you may use in the activity you’re about to do.
Static stretching is the more “traditional” type of stretching: holding the elbow, standing on an inclined board, palm on the tree, and so on. All of these elongate the muscle and loosen muscle fibers.
Before the workout you want to do dynamic stretches. You will want to move and get ready for the endurance training you’re about to engage in. We may be swimming, biking, running, or getting ready for a strength workout. Whatever we’re about to start doing, it’s good to move target the muscle groups we’re about to use and move them through their full range of motion.
It can be harmful to the muscles to hold the stretch in a static position before engaging in a workout. Since the muscle is still cold, we run a greater risk of tearing even while stretching when using static stretches.
Bottom line, before the workout, move you through your full range of motion with intentional dynamic stretches to get muscles warmed up and ready to move.
After your workout, you can still use dynamic movements. You don’t run the risk of any harm by doing so. However, this is also the place to perform static stretches, as this help cools the muscles down, elongate the muscles, release muscle tightness, and help you recover faster.
Understanding the critique
There are those that say endurance athletes don’t need to stretch. Their critique is that endurance athletes only need to move within a narrow functional range. The motions involved in endurance sports such as swimming, biking, and running are contained.
I see two flaws with this:
- It doesn’t take into consideration injury prevent. To reduce our risk of injury and boost our performance in the long term, add stretching exercises.
- This critique doesn’t take a long-term view of our range of motion. Over time, if we neglect stretching, our functional range and our ability to move through it will be greatly limited. It will be harder to regain this range of motion once we lost it. Don’t neglect it!
The Bottom Line
What I want you to hear most clearly is that there is no harm, and many benefits, to stretching an appropriate amount. It is possible to do it too much, too soon, or at the wrong time! This is a great time to get with a coach for a private session. By evaluating your range of motion, flexibility, and workout schedule, we can help you know what an appropriate amount of stretching is.
With all that said, though, please consider taking on these suggestions in your workout routine. If you’re an endurance athlete putting in long hours working out, you can’t afford to miss this. By adopting prevention strategies to avoid injuries and manage our health, we can train longer, work harder, and get faster. Stretching is one of the best things you can do as an endurance athlete to boost your performance long term.
If you want to learn more about private sessions, you can check out Erin’s article linked here. Our coaches work hard to ensure that all of our athletes are using good form in whatever they’re pursuing. It’s certainly worth it to get an outside set of eyes to see how you move and where you can improve.
As always, if you have any questions, feel free to email me at [email protected]