Monday, December 22, 2014

The importance of stretching (?)

Suze came over tonight so I could help her with a homework assignment.  She's currently getting her MS in Exercise Science and Health Promotion and had to test someone in different areas of speed, flexibility and agility.  That's how I ended up doing sprinting drills in my driveway tonight:

I had to start in the middle, then sprint to the right, sprint to the left, then sprint back across the middle.

You know, the usual Monday night activities.

This assessment is actually meant for baseball players, not marathoners.  Suze told me they haven't gotten to the point in her class where she can assess marathoners, so baseball speedwork it is.

We then went inside where Suze had me do all sorts of stretches to measure my flexibility, and she learned just how ridiculously unflexible I am.  I can't touch my feet when I bend over and keep my legs straight.  Not even close.  I've always been like this, despite being both a gymnast and a diver  in my youth.  This all led to a debate on the importance of stretching for distance runners.

When I first started running in high school, I stretched religously before each run.  I never enjoyed it, but just saw it as a necessary part of training, because that's what everyone believed.  In recent years, however, research has told us that cold, static stretching not only doesn't help us as much as we thought, but can actually be damaging.  If any stretching should be done, it should be dynamic stretching after a brief warm up.

But I actually don't stretch at all.  Before a big race I might do some sort of warmup routine, but that has more to do with calming nerves than preventing injury.  I've obviously been successful enough without it, but Suze believes I could go even faster if I stretched properly.  I believe that stretching will make more flexible, but not necessarily faster.

The tightness in my muscles seems relegated to my hamstrings, which Suze believes may be due to an imbalance between my hamstrings (the back of my thigh) and my quadriceps (the front of my thigh).  They may not even be tight, just overpowered by the quads.  An orthopedist once told me I had overdeveloped quads, so this seems like a possibility.

We'll see how training goes over the next few months, and if I want to add in a stretching routine or not.  

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